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Stocks give up rebound; investors remain nervous about economy, earnings
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NEW YORK (AP) _ Stocks fell again Wednesday after several rallies fizzled amid concerns about the strength of the economy and upcoming corporate results.

Unease about the economy sent stocks tumbling Tuesday. Comments from St. Louis Federal Reserve president William Poole appeared to deflate Wall Street's initial push higher Wednesday. Poole said "uncertainties are probably greater" for growth and inflation risks and that economic signals aren't all negative, according to Dow Jones Newswires.

Wall Street is looking for the Fed to cut interest rates when it meets in three weeks, and mixed economic readings could make such a cut less likely.

Unease about the economy has caused market volatility since the start of the year, with stocks rising on hopes for more interest rate cuts, and plunging as investors doubt that will be enough. The market has been skittish with fourth-quarter earnings season about to begin and many questions lingering about the fallout from the mortgage and credit crisis.

Investors were jolted Tuesday by speculation that Countrywide Financial Corp. would file for bankruptcy protection, and after AT&T Inc.'s chief executive said the U.S. economic slowdown was hurting the company's consumer business. That sent the Dow Jones industrial average down nearly 240 points.

There was little in the way of economic news Wednesday as investors awaited a speech by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke on Thursday that could give clues about the central bank's stance on the weakening economy.

Investors remain nervous about the economy, according to Thomas Nyheim, vice president and portfolio manager at Christiana Bank & Trust Co.

"Things are definitely slowing. The problem is, the more and more economists and strategists come out and say things are slowing, you could get a real downturn," he said. He said the market's pullback, however, has left stock prices at more appropriate levels.

In midafternoon trading, the Dow fell 57.96, or 0.46 percent, to 12,531.11. The blue chip index had been up nearly 100 points early in the session.

Broader stock indicators also lost ground. Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 7.28, or 0.52 percent, to 1,382.91, and the Nasdaq composite index declined 23.30, or 0.95 percent, to 2,417.21.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers by more than 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.19 billion shares.

By Tuesday's close, the Dow and S&P 500 had each fallen more than 5 percent in the new year; the Nasdaq is down about 8 percent. Tuesday's decline pushed the Dow and the S&P 500 down more than 11 percent from their highs in early October. A decline of more than 10 percent signals a market correction.

Bond prices rose Wednesday. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, fell to 3.76 percent from 3.84 percent late Tuesday. The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, while gold prices fell.

Light, sweet crude rose 17 cents to $96.50 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after a government report showed domestic inventories declined last week.

Wall Street is awaiting Alcoa Inc.'s quarterly report, which each quarter marks the unofficial start of earnings season. Investors are hoping the report, due after the closing bell, can provide insight into the well-being of the economy. Wall Street expects the aluminum producer will report a 55 percent drop in earnings per share, excluding restructuring charges. Alcoa, one of the 30 stocks that comprise the Dow industrials, fell 58 cents to $30.42.

Troubled discount brokerage E-Trade Financial Corp., which Tuesday saw shares dip to an all-time low on growing mortgage segment losses, said it sold about $3 billion of mortgage-backed securities and municipal bonds on top of the November sale of its $3 billion asset-backed portfolio. E-Trade rose 2 cents to $2.27.

Chemical maker DuPont Co. rose $2.01, or 4.7 percent, to $44.76 after raising its fiscal 2007 profit outlook, citing better-than-expected fourth-quarter sales. The company, which makes a wide range of products including automotive coatings and genetically modified seeds, also lifted its forecast for 2008.

Countrywide on Wednesday said it funded $23.4 billion of mortgage loans in December, up 1 percent from November. The lender, which on Tuesday declared it had no intention to file for bankruptcy, also said that lending activity for the quarter topped its forecast. Countrywide fell 82 cents, or 15 percent, to $4.65.

James Cayne stepped down as chief executive of Bear Stearns Cos. He was replaced by Bear Stearns President Alan Schwartz, a 57-year-old investment banker respected for his dealmaking savvy. Bear Stearns rose 40 cents to $71.49.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 11.06, or 1.58 percent, to 693.71.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average closed up 0.49 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 fell 1.32 percent, Germany's DAX index dropped 0.86 percent, and France's CAC-40 fell 1.10 percent.

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