Feb 21 - Summary of business headlines: Fed official says not taking away the $85 billion a month punch bowl yet; jobs, factory, inflation data suggest Fed policy can continue; Hewlett-Packard beats forecast, guides higher; Wal-Mart sales not hurt as much as feared. Conway G. Gittens reports.
Wall Street suffers its worst two-day slide of the year as the global economy shows signs of struggle. The Dow lost 46 points, the S&P 500 gave up 9 and the Nasdaq slid 32. Some of the sell-off was follow-through from the day before. Minutes from the last Federal Reserve meeting showed policymakers worried about their pledge to spend $85 billion a month to buy debt until the jobless rate significantly falls. Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher hopes to bring some clarity. SOUNDBITE: DALLAS FEDERAL RESERVE PRESIDENT RICHARD FISHER (ENGLISH) SAYING: "I don't think you go from wild turkey to cold turkey overnight and I was one of the people at the table who actually used the word tapering; that we need to consider not cutting this program off. You know we are doing $85 billion a month, which is a significant amount. The question is: as we go through time when do we not halt the program outright but begin to taper it off? You are still adding accommodation to the system. Again, I didn't support this to begin with but the question is: how do we manage it going forward?" Data out Thursday could provide some clues: Jobless claims jumped more than expected last week Factory activity in the Mid-Atlantic region shrank to a seven-month low But on the positive side... Existing home sales rose slightly last month, with prices up and inventories down to a 13-year low. And consumer prices were flat for a second straight month in January. Hewlett-Packard posted better-than-expected results after the close excluding items and the outlook for the current quarter running ahead of forecasts. More importantly, quarterly revenues at Wal-Mart jumped to nearly $128 billion. Sales at stores opened at least a year were at the low-end of targets. Wal-Mart predicts so-called same-store sales will be even slower this quarter as consumers deal with delayed tax returns, higher payroll taxes, and rising gasoline costs. In Europe: Escalating worries ahead of Italian elections this weekend spooked the market big time and somber data didn't help - sending euro zone stocks to their lowest level of the year.