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Stock market drops as ratings agencies eye euro deal

Stock market falls sharply, with the Dow losing 162 points, after two big ratings agencies said the fiscal pact between European leaders would make little difference in solving the region's debt problems. Intel's lower fourth-quarter guidance dragged the stock market down further.

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A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. The Dow fell 162 points Monday, Dec. 12, 2011, after two major credit ratings agencies, Fitch Ratings and Moody's Investors Service, criticized the European budget deal. Intel's lower guidance on earnings also dragged the stock market down.

Andrew Burton/Reuters

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Stocks closed sharply lower Monday after two big rating agencies criticized a fiscal pact between European leaders last week that is aimed at easing the region's debt crisis.

Fitch Ratings said the deal to bind Europe's budgets more closely will make little difference. The region will face "a significant economic downturn" as it wrestles with its sovereign debt crisis for another year or more, Fitch predicted.

The Dow Jones industrial average dropped as many as 243 points in afternoon trading before closing down 163. Intel Corp. dragged the stock market lower, falling 4 percent after the chipmaker said its fourth-quarter revenue will be lower than expected because of supply chain problems. Intel is considered a bellwether for the computer industry because its chips are used in a wide range of products.

The euro hit a 10-week low against the dollar, plunging nearly 2 cents. Yields on Italian bonds rose as investors fretted about that nation's debt burden. European stocks fell.

Moody's Investors Service said that it will review the credit ratings of all European Union nations in the first quarter of next year. The statement doused optimism among investors that had lifted stocks and other risky assets late last week.

The summit produced "few new measures" and Europe remains in a "critical and volatile stage," Moody's said in a published report. The pact, Moody's noted, does not address Europe's immediate problem: the crushing debt loads of some nations and their rising borrowing costs.

The agreement "kicks off a process that has a chance of solving the next crisis, not this one," said Guy LeBas, chief fixed income strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott. "The problem is the changes they've agreed to go toward solving the root of current problems 12 months from now."

Stocks fell broadly, with declines across all 10 industry groups in the Standard & Poor's 500 index and 28 of the 30 stocks in the Dow.

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The Dow closed down 162.87 points, or 1.3 percent, at 12,021.39. The S&P 500 lost 18.72, or 1.5 percent, to close at 1,236.47. The Nasdaq composite index dropped 34.59, or 1.3 percent, to close at 2,612.26.

Financial stocks had some of the steepest declines. Investors fear that big banks might be damaged by the turmoil in Europe. Morgan Stanley fell 6.1 percent, Citigroup Inc. 5.4 percent. Bank of America Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. posted the biggest and third-biggest losses in the Dow 30, falling 4.7 percent and 3.4 percent, respectively.

The warning from Moody's helped deflate optimism about last week's pact, which called for tougher fiscal discipline among European countries and a central authority with the ability to punish those that spend too much.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.02 percent from 2.07 percent late Friday, indicating stronger demand for low-risk investments. Bond yields fall as demand for them increases.

Fears that Italy or Spain will default reduced demand for their government bonds, driving their yields higher and pushing their borrowing costs near the dangerous levels that forced Greece, Portugal and Ireland to take bailouts. The yield on the 10-year Italian bond rose to 6.53 percent. Greece and Portugal were forced to seek bailouts from their creditors when their bond yields approached 7 percent.

Stocks in Italy led European markets to a much lower close. Italy's main index closed down 3.8 percent. Germany's DAX lost 3.4 percent and Spain's fell 3.1 percent.

Among the top corporate movers:

Endo Pharmaceuticals Holdings Inc. jumped 6 percent after federal regulators approved a new form of one of its pain medications, extending its patent rights over the drug.

Diamond Foods Inc. plunged 22.8 percent after reports of an investigation of its payments to walnut farmers. Lawsuits already have been filed, and more are expected.

Vulcan Materials Co. shot up 15.4 percent, the most in the S&P 500, after Martin Marietta Materials Inc. made an unsolicited bid to buy the company for $4.74 billion in stock. Martin Marietta rose 1.2 percent.

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