U.S. Stocks Trim Gains As White House Details Subprime Plan

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- U.S. stocks on Thursday retained the bulk of earlier gains as the White House offered a plan to curb home foreclosures amid some downward pressure from mixed retail-sales results.

Up about 80 points when President Bush began speaking Thursday afternoon, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was more recently up 41 points at 13,485.9, with 19 of its 30 components trading higher, led by a 3.9% rise by American Insurance Group Inc. shares.

The S&P 500 was up 5.60 points at 1,490.62, and the Nasdaq Composite was up 14.32 points to 2,680.68.

Shares of Countrywide Financial Corp. were up 8.3%, with the mortgage lender leading gains in the financial sector as President Bush and other administration officials offered their strategy for aiding some subprime borrowers. .

Thursday afternoon, Bush and Treasury Secretary Paulson detailed the administration's plan, made with input from mortgage lenders and banks, to freeze interest rates for as long as five years to help some subprime borrowers.

The proposal does not involve any government funds, and companies that service loans are expected to abide by guidelines for refinancing and modifying subprime loans for able borrowers, Paulson said.

Illustrating the housing woes, the Mortgage Bankers Association on Thursday reported foreclosures hitting new highs in the third quarter, with the rate of loans in the foreclosure process at 1.69% of all outstanding, up from 1.4% in the second quarter. .

Volume on the New York Stock Exchange passed 756 million, and advancing stocks outnumbering those declining more than 2 to 1. On the Nasdaq, nearly 1.2 billion shares traded hands, and advancers outpaced decliners 2 to 1.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, gold futures reversed earlier sharp losses to trade higher, recently up $4.1 to $807.8 an ounce, while crude-oil futures gained $2.17 to $89.66 a barrel.

Sales target

Target Corp. shares dropped 8% after the retailer said it expects December sales to be down "well short" of its prior view. In November, Target had predicted same-store sales would be down in the low single digits.

The retailer also reported that November same-store sales increased 10.8%, while on a calendar-adjusted basis, sales for the period increased 1.1%.

November same-store sales were mixed during a month of heavy promotions.

Wal-Mart Stores , Macy's and Costco Wholesale beat expectations, while Fred's cut its earnings outlook and Limited Brands sales fell more than forecast.

Starbucks Corp. shares fell 0.5% after the chain recalled about 167,000 China-made coffee mugs after reports of nine minor injuries. .

Jobless claims

Earlier, the government said its four-week moving average for jobless claims climbed to a level unseen in more than two years, with the underlying trend "consistent with the recent softening in the labor market," said Omair Sharif, an analyst at RBS Greenwich Capital.

The Labor Department reported its moving average for initial jobless claims hit its highest mark since late October 2005, with the seasonally adjusted four-week moving average for initial jobless claims up 4,750 to 340,250. .

On Friday, the government is slated to release its employment report.

"We expect nonfarm payrolls tomorrow to show a gain of 90,000, with an uptick in the unemployment rate to 4.8%," Sharif said in his commentary.

Elsewhere, the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development said the U.S. will avoid a recession next year, though the housing problems will lead to a downturn.

The Bank of England joined the Bank of Canada in making an interest-rate cut this week. The European Central Bank held steady and kept rates at 4%.

"This is the first time in two years they have cut and is further evidence that the credit crisis is global," Kevin Giddis, an analyst at Morgan Keegan & C. Inc., said of the BoE's move.

Overseas, European shares fell back as investors factored in the rate cut, although a strong update from the royal Bank of Scotland lifted banking stocks. .

The dollar was mixed, gaining on the yen but erasing gains against the euro and pound. .

By Kate Gibson