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Uneasy Investors Push Indexes Lower

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

The stock market slumped again Tuesday, leaving the Nasdaq composite index down more than 9% from its recent high, as oil prices ticked up and consumer confidence declined.

Heavy-industry shares, which have been among the market’s best performers over the last year, led the latest sell-off as some investors rushed to take profits. Machinery giant Caterpillar tumbled nearly 5%.

Nervous investors also continued to pull away from emerging markets overseas, U.S. small stocks and from the corporate junk bond market.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 79.95 points, or 0.8%, to 10,405.70, a two-month low.

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The Standard & Poor’s 500 index dropped 8.92 points, or 0.8%, to 1,165.36, holding just modestly above its 2005 closing low of 1,163.75 set Jan. 24.

The technology-dominated Nasdaq composite hit a five-month low, losing 18.64 points, or 0.9%, to 1,973.88. Microsoft slipped 28 cents to a 52-week low of $23.92.

The Nasdaq index is down 9.4% from its multi-year closing high reached Dec. 30. By contrast, the Dow is off 4.9% from its high reached March 4.

Stocks have been in a broad downtrend since the start of this month, hurt by rising interest rates and stubbornly high oil prices. Near-term crude oil futures edged up 18 cents to $54.23 a barrel in New York on Tuesday.

The Conference Board’s report Tuesday that its consumer confidence index declined this month to a four-month low reminded some investors of the risks to the economy from higher interest rates and energy costs, analysts said.

“It’s going to take a number of positive things, from both an economic and individual company basis, for the market to get some momentum and enthusiasm going,” said Brian Bruce, director of global investments at PanAgora Asset Management Inc. in Boston.

Some analysts said first-quarter earnings reports could provide a lift in April if results were better than expected.

In the meantime, end-of-quarter portfolio shuffling could continue to put downward pressure on stocks, some warn. On Tuesday, losers outnumbered winners by more than 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange and on Nasdaq, a sign of broad-based selling.

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Among the day’s highlights:

* Caterpillar slid $4.42 to $89.80 after an analyst at brokerage Morgan Stanley said investors should consider taking profits in many of the heavy-industry shares that have performed well over the last 18 months.

Other losers included Bucyrus, down $4.86 to $37.72; Cummins, down $2.71 to $68.91; and Textron, off $2.96 to $71.81.

* Commodity-related stocks also were weak. Great Northern Iron plunged $7.98 to $119.32; steelmaker Nucor slid $3.70 to $56.22.

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* Utilities, another strong sector over the last year, were hit by profit taking. Dominion Resources lost $1.11 to $72.49; PG&E; fell 83 cents to $33.37.

* Hospital stocks rallied as HCA said first-quarter earnings would beat expectations. HCA jumped $3.08 to $51.95.

* Many emerging stock markets overseas suffered fresh selling. Brazil’s main market index slid 1.6%. The Slovak market fell 5.5%. In Indonesia, the site of a major earthquake Monday, the main market index lost 2.7%.

* Yields on corporate junk bonds continued to rise as some investors sold the securities. The yield on an index of 100 junk issues tracked by KDP Investment Advisors rose to 7.25%, up from 7.20% on Monday and the highest since August.

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* The Treasury bond market benefited from investors’ renewed concerns about risk. The yield on the 10-year T-note eased to 4.58% from 4.64% on Monday.

* The dollar gained for a ninth straight day against the yen, the longest winning streak since 2001, after government reports showed Japanese household spending dropped more than forecast in February.

The dollar rose to a five-month high of 107.56 yen from 107.14 on Monday.


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