Stocks fall after Fed chief clarifies stimulus stance

NEW YORK -- Remarks by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke that dimmed hopes for a third round of bond-buying pushed stocks lower Thursday.

In a second day of testimony, Bernanke said the Fed expects the economy to improve. He said the central bank would step in with more stimulus only if there is a significant downturn in the economy. "We're not prepared at this point to take further action," he said.

Stocks turned immediately lower after the remarks and fell for much of the day. Bernanke was clarifying statements he made Wednesday that left the door open to new economic stimulus measures. Investors took his earlier remarks to mean that he had all but guaranteed new action.

Rates on 15-year home loans drop to lowest point of year

WASHINGTON -- Fixed mortgage rates fell this week, and the rate on the 15-year loan dropped to its lowest point of the year.

Freddie Mac said the average rate on the 30-year loan decreased to 4.51 percent from 4.60 percent a week ago. The average rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage fell to 3.65 percent from 3.75 percent. Its previous low this year was 3.67 percent three weeks ago.

Investors shifted money out of stocks last month

BOSTON -- Mutual fund investors last month made their biggest retreat from stocks since the bull market began more than two years ago.

A net $17.3 billion was withdrawn from stock funds in June, while bond funds attracted new cash for the fifth month in a row, industry consultant Strategic Insight said on Thursday.

It was the biggest monthly flow out of stock funds since March 2009, when stocks hit bottom after the financial crisis. Net withdrawals totaled more than $20 billion that month.

Ralcorp to spin off unit that makes Post cereals

ST. LOUIS -- Ralcorp Holdings said Thursday it will spin off its Post Foods cereal unit to focus on building its business making generic foods.

Ralcorp said it will separate the two businesses in a tax-free spinoff that will be complete in four to six months.

The move makes Post more attractive for potential acquisitions.

Conoco to exit refining, focus on oil exploration

CHICAGO -- ConocoPhillips, the third-largest U.S. energy company, plans to shed its refining business through a spinoff to free capital for oil exploration and increase returns for investors.

ConocoPhillips will divide into two publicly traded companies by the end of June 2012, the company said Thursday.

Alden Global fund buys out Journal Register Co.

PHILADELPHIA -- Journal Register Co. has been acquired by the Alden Global Capital hedge fund less than two years after the newspaper and digital media publisher emerged from bankruptcy protection and implemented an expansive digital presence.

CEO John Paton on Thursday called the move a vote of confidence by Alden in the company's "Digital First Strategy" and indicative of the company's turnaround.

Alden, a distressed-debt specialist, has been acquiring stakes in newspapers and was one of JRC's investors.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Journal Register said all its lenders were paid in full.