US stocks retreat from 3 1/2-year highs

JOSHUA FREED AP Business Writer Published:

U.S. stocks pulled back Monday from some of their highest levels in three and a half years.

In morning trading, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 48 points, or 0.4 percent, to 12,935. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell five points to 1,361. The Nasdaq composite index slipped 13 points to 2,951.

On Friday, the S&P closed at its highest level since June 2008. And last week the Dow climbed above 13,000 several times. It has not closed above 13,000 since May 2008.

The price of oil has risen 14 percent in the past month alone, and closed on Friday above $109, its highest point since May. A strengthening economy and higher tensions with Iran have boosted oil prices.

But some are worried that if oil prices rise too fast, and gasoline prices along with them, they will stifle the economic recovery. The price of oil fell more than $1 on Monday to $108.68 in New York trading, providing some relief.

Government figures show that growth in demand for crude oil has slowed in the U.S. from a year earlier, although some oil traders are betting a strengthening economy will eventually boost consumption.

U.S. stocks moving included home improvement retailer Lowe's Cos., up 1 percent after reporting a 13 percent jump in fourth-quarter profits. Chipmaker Micron Technology Inc. rose 6.3 percent after Japanese rival Elpida Memory Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection.

Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. fell 1.4 percent after the investor said the company's board has picked a successor along with two backups.

All 10 industry groups in the S&P 500 were down, led by a 1.2 percent drop in financial stocks.

The drop in U.S. stocks follows similar declines at stock markets overseas. In London, the FTSE 100 index fell 1.1 percent. Germany's DAX gave up 1.7 percent, and the CAC-40 in France fell 1.5 percent.

The European debt crisis is also still a lingering concern. Talks in Mexico at a meeting of the G-20 nations' finance ministers and central bank heads pointed to the need for the European Union to add billions in funds designed to stabilize the situation and calm markets.

Earlier in Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 index ended down 0.1 percent at 9,633.9, giving up gains posted earlier in the day. Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.8 percent to 21,217.86 and South Korea's Kospi lost 1.4 percent to 1,991.16.

There was positive news in housing. The number of Americans who signed contracts to buy homes rose in January to the highest level in nearly two years.

The rise in the index tracked by the National Association of Realtors supports the view that the housing market is gradually coming back.