Stocks Slip In Afternoon After Weaker Estimate Of U.S. Growth

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stock indexes drifted mostly lower in afternoon trading Friday, but were still on track to end the month higher. Investors were balancing encouraging reports on housing and consumer confidence against data showing that the economy grew at a slower annual rate in the final months of 2014. Oil prices rebounded after a steep drop the day before.


KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average fell 24 points, or 0.1 percent, to 18,189 as of 1:14 p.m. Eastern. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose less than one point at 2,111. The Nasdaq composite was down 10 points, or 0.2 percent, at 4,977.

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THE QUOTE: "The market does not have a clear catalyst to either cause it to sell off or to surge forward, and we're getting a little expensive from a valuation perspective," said David Heidel, regional investment director at U.S. Bank Wealth Management.


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WEAKER GROWTH: The Commerce Department said that the U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 2.2 percent in the October-December quarter, weaker than the 2.6 percent first estimated last month. The latest estimate marks a major slowdown from the third quarter, which had the strongest growth in 11 years. For all of 2014, the economy expanded 2.4 percent, up slightly from 2.2 percent growth in 2013.


HOUSING BELLWETHER: The National Association of Realtors' seasonally adjusted pending home sales index increased 1.7 percent to 104.2 in January. December's figure was also revised higher to show a smaller decline. The report is a sign that home sales are poised to accelerate after a slow start to the year.

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CONFIDENCE SLIPS: Consumers' confidence slipped this month, though it remains at the highest level in eight years. The University of Michigan's index of consumer sentiment dipped to 95.4 from an 11-year high of 98.1 in January. Overall, consumers' assessment of the economy and their expectations for the future both fell.


SECTOR VIEW: Six of the 10 sectors in the S&P 500 moved higher, with consumer staples notching the biggest gain. Health care stocks fell the most.


ENERGY SLIDE: Several energy companies were among the biggest decliners in the S&P 500. Southwestern Energy fell 87 cents, or 3.3 percent, to $25.48, while Cimarex Energy shed $2.85, or 2.5 percent, to $109.84. Chesapeake Energy lost 39 cents, or 2.3 percent, to $16.80.


PENNEY PINCHED: Shares in J.C. Penney slumped 5.8 percent, a day after the department store chain reported a surprise loss as expenses increased. The stock lost 53 cents to $8.59.


UNDERWEIGHT: Weight Watchers slid 32.6 percent after the weight-loss program operator issued an outlook late Thursday for this year's profits that fell far below Wall Street's expectations. The company fell $5.73 to $11.84.


MONSTER GAINS: Investors sent shares in Monster Beverage sharply higher a day after the energy drink seller reported higher fourth-quarter earnings and improved sales. The stock surged $16.26, or 13 percent, to $141.


CLEANING UP: Shares in Clean Energy Fuels rose 22.2 percent after the provider of natural gas for vehicle fleets reported better-than-expected fourth-quarter results. Clean Energy added $1.12 to $6.11.


OVERSEAS MARKETS: In Europe, Germany's DAX gained 0.7 percent, while France's CAC-40 was up 0.8 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.1 percent. In Asia, Tokyo's Nikkei 225 rose 0.1 percent after Japan reported mixed economic data. The Shanghai Composite Index gained 0.4 percent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng was down 0.3 percent.


ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude rose 41 cents $48.62 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Thursday, the contract fell $2.82 to close at $48.17 a barrel.


BONDS: U.S. government bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note slipped to 2.02 percent from 2.03 percent late Thursday.

         – by AP Reporter Alex Veiga



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