How Italy's Jitters Are Taking Down the Dow

Stocks aren't starting the week the way investors had hoped, As of 2:20 p.m. EST, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) is down 70 points or 0.5%, to dip back below the 14,000 mark. Most stocks on the index are falling today, with several Dow members seeing losses of more than 1%. It's not domestic news that has the market concerned, however; elections over in Italy are what's shaking up Wall Street.

Berlusconi's market blues
Exit polls continue to pour in from Italy's hotly contested election. Many in the markets fear a scenario in which former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his coalition emerge victorious, potentially destabilizing the debt-ridden country's fragile deficit-reduction effort. Europe's debt problem has largely stayed under the radar in recent months, but post-election instability out of Italy could upset the bull rally, some analysts and economists fear.

The election concerns are weighing on financial stocks in afternoon trading. Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) leads all Dow laggards lower, with shares falling 1.9%, while JP Morgan (NYSE: JPM  ) has lost a more modest 0.9% so far. While the Italian election could jeopardize the nation's financial footing, bank stocks are also looking ahead to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's visits to the Senate Banking Committee tomorrow and the House Committee on Financial Services the day after. Comments last week from the Federal Open Market Committee's minutes about possibly relaxing stimulus spooked investors, and a defense of the easing measures from Bernanke could help settle the financial sector's fears.

Boeing (NYSE: BA  ) is sputtering along to start the week, although its problems are halfway across the globe from Italy. Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways, which boasts more of Boeing's troubled new 787 planes than any other airline, announced that it will cancel all planned flights for the planes through May. It's the latest headache for Boeing and its flagship jet in the month-and-a-half-long saga that first saw the 787 grounded in mid-January. Today, shares of the aerospace giant have fallen 1.5%.

McDonald's and Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) are among the few Dow stocks managing to stay in the green today despite the index's losses. Shares of the companies have risen 1.1% and 0.9%, respectively. Wal-Mart reported earnings that topped analyst expectations last week, but with the company's guidance lacking and sales slow to start February, all may not be well at this big-box retailer.

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