U.S. Stocks Open Lower Before Housing Data

LONDON (MarketWatch) -- U.S. stocks opened lower Monday on the final trading day of 2007, with concern over the economy still apparent ahead of existing-home sales data.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 48.7 points to 13,317.17, dragged lower by Home Depot Inc. and Citigroup in early trade.

The S&P 500 shed 6.4 points to 1,472.13, and the Nasdaq Composite lost nearly 13 points to 2,661.49.

For the year, the Dow is up over 7%, with a 35% jump for industrial conglomerate Honeywell International Inc. offsetting a 47% downturn at Citigroup.

The broader S&P 500, with a heavy weight toward financials, is up over 4%, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite has climbed 11% after gains for heavyweights like Apple Inc. , Google Inc. and Research in Motion .

The move on Monday came before the release of statistics on sales of existing homes, due out at 10 a.m. Eastern. Economists polled by MarketWatch expect to see some improvement on that front, with sales forecast to rise to 5 million homes from 4.97 million sold in October.

ComScore reported over the weekend that consumers have spent 19% more online this holiday season than last year. Sales of semiconductors rose 0.7% in November to $22.5 billion compared to October, or 2.3% more than last year, the Semiconductor Industry Association said Monday, as demand for consumer products with high semiconductor content offset declining average selling prices in a number of product areas.

Outside of stocks, the dollar was weaker against some rivals, falling against the Japanese yen and the British pound, which reclaimed the $2 mark.

Crude-oil futures -- up nearly 60% this year - rose 46 cents to $96.46 a barrel. Iran is planning to start its first nuclear reactor next year, while two facilities in Australia were shut due to a cyclone.

Gold futures fell $2.90 to $839.80 an ounce. Bonds rose, sending yields on 10-year Treasury notes down to 4.04%. The bond market is closing early, at 2 p.m. Eastern.

Merrill Lynch reportedly eyes overseas funds

Merrill Lynch , despite a $4.4 billion injection from a Singapore investment fund, is in talks with Chinese and Middle East sovereign wealth funds for further capital injections in anticipation of more write-downs in the fourth quarter, according to a report in Britain's Observer newspaper that cited unnamed sources. Merrill Lynch separately completed a deal to sell an insurance unit to Aegon for $1.25 billion.

Merrill Lynch lost 1% in early trade.

Chinese Internet search engine and Nasdaq 100 component Baidu.com slipped over $6, or 1.6%, as it reported over the weekend that Chief Financial Officer Shawn Wang died in an accident.

Google shares also edged lower, down around $3. It is in talks with newspaper publishers to sell space in their pages to online clients, according to a report in the Sunday Times (of London).

Vonage Holdings jumped over 6% after it said it settled a patent dispute with Nortel Networks .

On the M&A front, Kirk Kerkorian's Tracinda is going to buy 35% of Delta Petroleum for $684 million, or $19 a share, the companies said Monday. The investment is at 23% premium to Friday's close.

Delta Petroleum shot up 23% to $19.07 in early trade.

Overseas, the KSE-100 in Karachi finished with a loss of 4.7% in the first day of trade since Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated.

Stocks in Europe closed 2007 with their first annual loss in four years.

By MarketWatch