U.S. stocks started moderately lower Monday, led by a pullback in utilities, as investors focused on efforts in Japan to avoid a nuclear catastrophe after Friday's massive earthquake led to explosions at two nuclear reactors. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 44 points to 12,001, led by a 2% drop in General Electric shares. GE designed reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan. The S&P 500 dipped 4 points to 1,299, with all sectors lower, led by utilities. The Nasdaq Composite dropped 10 points to 2,706. The commodities continue to get hit led by uranium stocks. The price of oil has started to retreat the last several days. Oil driller Noble Corp received an upgrade, but the stock is lower. The alternative energy plays are all trading higher. The insurance stocks continue to get hit on their Japanese exposure. AFLAC is down 4%. MetLife, Prudential, and Hartford are down over 2% each. More stocks trading on the Japanese concerns are the autos and semiconductor sectors. Toyota is down 4.5% after several of their plants were disrupted. The American autos like GM and Ford are modestly higher. In the chip space, American memory chip maker Micron is up 4% after several Japanese chip companies were shut down. Chipmaker, Xilinx raised their dividend, but the stock is lower. Elsewhere in the tech space, Apple is up a percent on news ipad sales are white hot. Through the first hour the averages pushed lower with the Dow dropping 100 points and the Nasdaq declining 20 points. One deal this weekend thanks to Berkshire Hathaway buying Lubrizol for $9 billion. Lubrizol is up 27% on the takeover. Berkshire is down a percent this morning. Only a handful of winners so far this morning. Through the morning the averages drifted lower after breaking key resistance levels. Through the morning and into the afternoon the Dow fell as much as 150 points before recovering. The Nasdaq declined 33 points before recovering. In the middle of the afternoon the averages rebounded on news Japan was getting a better hand on their nuclear disaster problems. Hopefully that turns out to be true. In the last hour the averages continued to improve. The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished down just 51 points at 11,993, led by a 2.2% drop in GE shares. GE designed six of the reactors in Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, where cooling systems. The S&P 500 lost 7 points to 1,296.39. The Nasdaq Composite fell 14 points to 2,700.
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