Feb. 20 - Summary of business headlines: Investors spooked by Federal Reserve minutes showing policymakers may want to alter $85-billion purchase program; Inflation tame, housing construction down; Toll Brothers lags forecast; Office Depot, OfficeMax sink after deal; Crude prices slump. Conway G. Gittens reports.
Wall Street suffers its biggest percentage drop since November and you can blame it all on the Fed. Blue chips fell by triple digits, the S&P 500 shed 1-1/4 percent, and the Nasdaq lost 1-1/2 percent. The Federal Reserve may end or curtail its bond buying program before a significant drop in the jobless rate as indicated in previous meetings. Minutes from the January policy meeting show board members considered the possibility a number of factors could prompt the Fed to stop or ease-up on a $85 billion-a-month purchase program. This revelation rocked Wall Street sentiment, But Fred Dickson of D.A. Davidson lays out what could prevent this from being a prolonged sell-off. SOUNDBITE: FRED DICKSON, CHIEF MARKET STRATEGIST, D.A. DAVIDSON (ENGLISH) SAYING: "Mainstream businesses for the most part are doing very well. So, confidence in the future in terms of economic growth, having the money to be able to deliver that and to be able to fuel that growth has to be in place. And the third thing, there has to be a growing level of confidence that globally, economic factors and economic growth factors, have returned to some semblance of normalcy." The rest of the news didn't provide much upside to the market. Wholesale prices jumped in January thanks to higher food costs. And new home construction fell last month led by a drop in multi-family units. Toll Brothers sealed the deal on fewer luxury homes than anticipated last quarter. But a 49 percent surge in orders suggests things should pick up. But shares of the top U.S. luxury homebuilder didn't, suffering a 9 percent drop. Office Depot is officially buying OfficeMax. The price tag: $1.2 billion. Office Depot shed about 17 percent, OfficeMax down 7 percent, and larger competitor Staples down by slightly more. Crude oil prices dropped more than 2 bucks, closing below $95 a barrel. Some traders blamed the drop on market chatter that a hedge fund had been forced to sell. Finally, anti-austerity riots are back in vogue in Greece as protesters clash with police over cut backs. As for the markets, cut backs seen in Germany and France but the UK settled higher.