U.S. Stocks Head Lower In Afternoon Trading

NEW YORK (AP) — A mix of downbeat corporate and economic news pulled the stock market lower Tuesday, as health care companies and housing stocks fell. Johnson & Johnson sank after reporting that a stronger dollar pinched the company's quarterly results.


KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell nine points, or 0.5 percent, to 2,011 as of 1:20 p.m.

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         The Dow Jones industrial average sank 105 points, or 0.6 percent, to 17,407, while the Nasdaq lost nine points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,625.


THE DOLLAR EFFECT: Johnson & Johnson, the maker of Tylenol, prescription drugs and joint replacements, turned in earnings that beat analysts' forecasts, yet it came up short for revenue, largely a result of a stronger dollar. Sales of medical devices, baby shampoo and other products sank as transactions in foreign currencies translated into fewer dollars. The company's stock fell $3.17, or 3 percent, to $100.90, the steepest drop of any company in the Dow.

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BUILDERS: A weak signal from the housing market sent builders' stocks down. The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo's builder sentiment index slipped a point from the prior month, an indication that they feel slightly less confident in their sales prospects heading into the spring. D.R. Horton dropped $1.07, or 5 percent, to $22.68, while PulteGroup sank $1.12, or 5 percent, to $20.45.


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UNSTABLE: "There's just a lot driving trading today," Randy Frederick, managing director of trading and derivatives with the Schwab Center for Financial Research. "I think we're going to see more volatility for a while, not just down but up, too."

         Uncertainty is what's causing the turbulence, Frederick said. At the moment, there are just too many open questions hanging over investors heads. He pointed to two upcoming events that could swing markets: a meeting of the European Central Bank on Thursday and elections in Greece on Sunday.


FUELED: Delta Air Lines surged 5 percent after the airline reported quarterly results that topped analysts' estimates. Falling oil prices helped, as the airline spent much less on fuel compared with the same period of 2013. Its stock surged $2.46 to $48.31.


ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude slipped $1.59 to $47.54 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the international benchmark, fell 66 cents to $48.19 a barrel.


MISSED: Morgan Stanley posted quarterly earnings and revenue that missed analysts' expectations. The investment bank's profits surged over the prior year but a slowdown in trading hit its revenue. Morgan Stanley dropped 48 cents, or 1 percent, to $34.41.


REPORT CARDS: The fourth-quarter earnings season is in full swing, and analysts continue to lower their expectations for overall results. At the start of December, they estimated that big corporations would report quarterly earnings growth of 6.6 percent. Now, they estimate that earnings will increase 4.3 percent, according to S&P Capital IQ.


SAFE SPOTS: A slew of concerns have led traders into investments that often move in the opposite direction from the stock market. Gold continued its recent rally on Tuesday, climbing $17.70 to $1,294.70 an ounce. The yellow metal has gained 9 percent this year.

         Prices also climbed in the U.S. government bond market, tamping yields down. The yield on the 10-year Treasury dipped to 1.78 percent, a sharp drop from 1.84 percent late Friday.


OVER THERE: European stock markets were mixed. Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.5 percent. France's CAC 40 gained 1.2 percent, while Germany's DAX closed with a gain of 0.1 percent.


GLOBAL ECONOMY: The International Monetary Fund cut its forecasts for global growth over the next two years, warning that persistent weakness in most major economies will outweigh any benefit from lower oil prices. It now predicts global growth at 3.5 percent this year and 3.7 percent in 2016.


CHINA GDP: China's economy expanded 7.4 percent last year, its weakest performance in 24 years. The slower growth is partly a result of Beijing's efforts to wean the economy off its reliance on heavy industry and trade. But a range of problems, including a slumping property market and uneven exports, have hampered the shift.


ANALYST'S TAKE: "With growth moderating in China, the next phase of the country's economic prosperity is being mapped out through fiscal regulation and sustained growth targets," said IG strategist Evan Lucas, in a commentary. "Those ideas mean the central government is also looking to moderate rampant speculation, encourage sustained growth for domestic demand and ensure private enterprise becomes more self-sufficient."


ASIA'S DAY: Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 2.1 percent, and Hong Kong's Hang Seng was up 0.9 percent. China's Shanghai Composite closed with a gain of 1.8 percent. It plunged 7.7 percent on Monday in reaction to a regulatory clampdown on brokerages financing the stock purchases of investors.


CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 118.67 yen from 117.81 yen. The euro fell to $1.1579 from $1.1591. The pound rose against the dollar to $1.5153 from $1.5113

         – by AP Reporter Matthew Craft



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