Mid-Day Update: Stocks Modestly Lower as Investors Seek Clear Direction Following Fed Chief's Weekend Interview

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Here's where markets stand at mid-day:

-NYSE down 26.23 (-0.34%) to 7,725.35

-DJIA down 19.26 (-0.17%) to 11,362.83

-S&P 500 down 2.87 (-0.23%) to 1,221.84

-Nasdaq down 3.38 (-0.13%) to 2,588.47

GLOBAL SENTIMENT

Hang Seng down 0.36%

Nikkei down 0.11%

FTSE up 0.43%

MID-DAY NYSE INDEX WATCH

NYSE Energy up 0.12% at 11,008.78

NYSE Financial down 0.91% at 4,765.84

NYSE Health Care down 0.47% at 6,324.45

NYSE Arca Tech 100 down 0.30% at 1,069.07

UPSIDE MOVERS

(+) AEZS (+4.6%) gains on positive study data.

(+) RMBS (+3.7%) doubles Q4 sales outlook.

(+) BCON (+10.9%) gets Nasdaq listing extension.

(+) RDWR (+19.3%) says SK C&C has deployed Alteon 5412 switches for Web portals.

(+) BGP (+39.8%) gains as reports say hedge fund manager William Ackman ready to finance borders acquisition of BKS.

(+) AEO (+1.3%) upgraded.

(+) ARO (+2.1%) downgraded.

DOWNSIDE MOVERS

(-) WIN (-0.8%) downgraded.

(-) SNDK (-1.9%) downgraded.

MARKET DIRECTION

Stocks are down modestly in mid-day trading as investors seek a clear direction in the wake of a weekend television interview by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. He indicated the central bank will look at a possible expansion of its controversial bond-buying program. Also adding to the mix is speculation on possible outcomes from a meeting of finance ministers from 16 European nations seeking to avoid more costly bailouts.

There are no economic reports scheduled.

In an interview on CBS's "60 Minutes," Bernanke defended the Fed's recent actions and pledged to do more as necessary. He warned that the job market could take years to return to pre-crisis strength. The quantitative easing program, which puts more money into the market as the Fed purchases treasuries, has drawn both criticism and praise.

Also, European Union leaders are due to meet in Brussels to discuss whether their 750 billion euro ($997 million) rescue fund might need to be increased.

In company-specific news, shares of Pfizer ( PFE ) are higher in the regular session after Chief Executive Officer and Chairman Jeffrey B. Kindler announced his retirement Sunday evening, a development that surprised, at least with its timing, several analysts that cover the company. Ian C. Read, Pfizer's head of global biopharmaceutical operations, will take over as chief executive immediately. The board said in its statement that it would elect a new chairman at a meeting within two weeks.

Google ( GOOG ) shares are higher after the Internet giant unveiled its version of digital books with more than three million titles available through its eBookstore. Users can buy, store and read Google eBooks like they would access messages in Gmail by using a password-protected Google account. eBooks storage would be unlimited. Books would cost between $6.17 to $14.99, although some would be free, the company said in a statement.

Shares of MetLife ( MET ) are higher as the largest U.S. life insurer said it sees 2011 earnings to climb after the completion of an acquisition from American International Group ( AIG ), according to reports. For 2011, MetLIfe sees earnings in the range of $4.75 to $5.15 per share and premiums, fees, and other revenue in the range of $45.8 to $47 billion.

The analyst consensus is $5.03 per share in earnings, according to Thomson Reuters. Ailco,which MetLife purchased from AIG last month, will enable MetLife to add clients outside of the U.S. life insurance market, reports Bloomberg, citing comments from the company.

Shares of Seattle Genetics ( SGEN ) are sharply lower following positive results from the pivotal trial of single-agent brentuximab vedotin (SGN-35) in relapsed or refractory Hodgkin lymphoma. The results are better than expected, but the commercial potential of the drug may be limited because of "the small market opportunity," Bloomberg quoted Canaccord Genuity analyst George Farmer as saying.

Massey Energy (MEE) is up more than 3%, after it said late Friday President Baxter Phillips Jr. will succeed Don Blankenship as chief executive officer after he retires on Dec. 31.

AOL Inc. (AOL) and Yahoo (YHOO) are both higher following a published report this morning that AOL may break itself up and seek to merge its content division with Yahoo. AOL's plans are in the exploratory stage, according to Reuters, which broke the story, citing unnamed people close to the plans. No talks are known to be underway. AOL would sell its dial-up business to another Internet service provider and combine its content business with Yahoo, according to the report.

Starbucks Coffee Co. (SBUX) opened lower and is down fractionally after firing a shot across the bow of Kraft (KFT) this morning over a coffee deal gone awry, calling the food company "self-serving." The statement was in response to a move earlier today by Kraft to seek a preliminary injunction against Starbucks for allegedly violating the coffee deal. Starbucks claims the agreement had been terminated.

Shares of Bank of America (BAC) have fallen in regular session trading despite an earlier Financial Times report that the bank will meet a Dec. 31 deadline to raise the final $3 billion needed to fully repay the government's $45 billion bailout two years ago. The bank was able to satisfy the capital requirements by scaling back its stake in Blackrock (BLK) and selling warrants for shares in China Construction Bank, the newspaper said, citing undisclosed sources.

Lions Gate Entertainment (LGF) shares are down as the studio filed an amended complaint , saying that Carl Icahn--who has been engaged in a hostile takeover of the studio--was secretly plotting to profit from a merger between the Lions Gate and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, according to a Bloomberg report on the matter. Also, Lions Gate reportedly asked a judge to force Icahn to disclose the extend and value of his MGM debt holdings.

Shares of Barnes & Noble (BKS) are sharply higher in the regular session on news that hedge fund manager William Ackman is ready to finance a Borders (BGP) $16 per share offer for Barnes & Noble. Ackerman owns 37% of Borders through his Pershing Square Capital Management, according to a filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission.

Shares of NextEra Energy (NEE) are down as the company says it has agreed to purchase Canadian solar projects from First Solar (FSLR) according to a statement from the company. Under the terms of the project agreements, First Solar will continue developing and will construct the Sombra and Moore Solar Energy Centers, using First Solar's advanced thin film solar modules. All of the power from the solar projects will be sold to the Ontario Power Authority under long-term contracts.

Commodities are mixed as February gold contracts are up $14, or 0.95%, to $1,420 an ounce while January crude oil contacts are down 0.35%, or $0.31, at $88.88 a barrel.

In energy ETFs, the United States Oil Fund (USO) is down 0.44% to $38.14 and the United States Natural Gas fund (UNG) is up 3.87% to $6.17.

In precious metal ETFs, the SPDR Gold Trust (GLD) is up 0.15% to $138.27. Market Vectors Gold Miners (GDX) is up 0.86% to $63.25. iShares Silver Trust (SLV) is up 2.18% to $29.22.



The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The NASDAQ OMX Group, Inc.

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This article appears in: Investing , Commodities

Referenced Stocks: AIG , GOOG , MET , PFE , SGEN

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