Dow Slips from 2008 High as Greek Fears Linger

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The blue chips fell slightly from their highest level since before the collapse of Lehman Brothers as traders cashed in on gains from last week's rally and remained cautious over the debt situation in Greece.

Today's Markets

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 17.1 points, or 0.13%, to 12845, the S&P 500 dipped 0.6 point, or 0.04%, to 1344 and the Nasdaq Composite slipped 3.7 points, or 0.13%, to 2902.

A strong reading on the U.S. jobs markets sent the Dow zooming to its highest level since before the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 and the Nasdaq rallying to its best point since 2000 last week. The broad S&P 500, meanwhile, has had its best start to a year since 1987, climbing 6.9% thus far.

The first trading day of the week was muted by comparison. Indeed, as of the time this article was published, slightly more than 3.3 billion shares traded hands on the New York Stock Exchange, the lowest so far in 2012.

Energy companies like Chevron (NYSE:CVX) and Schlumberger (NYSE:SLB) were the top performers by a wide margin. The financial sector was the biggest laggard, weighed down by banks like Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC). However, Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) was a notable exception, jumping 1.7% to lead the Dow components.

With the economic and corporate dockets fairly light on the day, traders paid close attention to the debt crisis in Europe.

Greece's efforts to avoid a default have dragged on for months, taking numerous twists and turns along the way. The embattled country is presently negotiating with a slew of players on multiple fronts to secure its fate.

Internally, Greece's three main political parties have struggled to agree on austerity measures international lenders have insisted on in exchange for providing billions of euros in rescue funds. The groups have agreed on an additional 1.5% of GDP fiscal cut for 2012, but unpopular wage reductions across the private sector are among other issues that remain points of contention, according to media reports. Still, Greece and its rescuers did agree at mid-day ET to cut 15,000 public-sector jobs in 2012, according to a report by the Associated Press.

A separate meeting planned for Monday between the groups was delayed a day, according to a report by Reuters, citing the Greek prime minister's office.

The country's next debt payment is slated for late March and it risks defaulting if it can't convince the European Union and International Monetary Fund to provide another tranche of aid. Talks between Greece and its private creditors to secure a debt exchange deal in which bondholders would voluntary take a haircut on Greek debt have also been dragging on for weeks, missing several deadlines along the way.

The drama in Greece "leaves the market with a continued sense that Greece is no closer to a ‘good’ resolution," analysts at Nomura wrote in a note to clients on Monday. Echoing those frustrations, some market participants said the situation there could be a bearish pressure on equities.

Given stocks' strong performance over the past four months "any further heel-dragging from the continent could start to look as good as an excuse as any to take some money off the table and await further developments," David Jones, chief market strategist at London-based IG Index wrote in an e-mail.

The euro slid 0.7% to $1.3066, while the U.S. dollar rose 0.5% against a basket of six world currencies.

In corporate news, Boeing (NYSE:BA) said it plans on repairing an issue affecting part of the fuselage on some of its 787 Dreamliner planes. The Dow component said it will not affect production plans and doesn't pose a short-term safety issue, according to media reports.

Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ) forged a joint venture with Coinstar's (NASDAQ:CSTR) Redbox unit to create a video subscription service that will likely compete head-on with Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX). The two firms said in release they expect to unveil the service in the second half of 2012.

Commodities were mixed, trimming earlier losses.

The benchmark crude oil contract traded in New York fell 95 cents, or 0.95%, to $96.91 a barrel. Wholesale RBOB gasoline rose 0.46% to $2.929 a gallon.

In metals, gold dropped $15.40, or 0.88%, to $1725 a troy ounce.

The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note climbed 1.5 basis points to 1.942%.

Foreign Markets

European blue chips dipped 0.29%, the English FTSE 100 fell 0.15% to 5,892 and the German DAX ticked lower by 0.03% to 6,765.

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 rallied 1.1% to 8,929 and the Chinese Hang Seng edged lower by 0.23% to 20,710.