Stocks drop on mixed economic news; Wal-Mart falls


NEW YORK -- Investors sold off riskier stocks Thursday after disappointing earnings from Wal-Mart and mixed news about the U.S. economy. Small stocks fell the most.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average was down 208 points, or 1.3 percent, to 16,405 as of 1:51 p.m. Eastern time. It was second day of sharp declines for the blue-chip index. On Wednesday, the Dow’s 101-point drop ended a five-day winning streak. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 23 points, or 1.2 percent, to 1,865. The Nasdaq composite slid 48 points, or 1.2 percent, to 4,051.

SMALL STOCKS, BIG WORRIES: The Russell 2000, which is made up primarily of smaller, more risky companies, declined the most among major indexes. Small-cap stocks are considered riskier than large-caps, in part, because the companies often have weaker balance sheets. The Russell 2000 was down 1.2 percent Thursday afternoon, and has dropped 10 percent from a recent high on March 4. A decline that steep is a "correction" in Wall Street parlance.

RETAIL ROUT: Wal-Mart Stores fell $1.92, or 2.4 percent, to $76.82. The company reported lower earnings in its most recent quarter and warned that things don’t look much better in the current period. The company, like many other retailers, blamed harsh winter weather. Department store operator Kohl’s also fell after announcing a drop in first-quarter earnings. Its comparable-store sales fell 3.4 percent. Analysts were looking for a slight uptick.

FACTORY SLOWDOWN: U.S. industrial production dropped in April, the Federal Reserve said Thursday, possibly due to more bad weather. Factory output, which excludes mines and utilities, fell by 0.4 percent. Another manufacturing-related report, the Philadelphia Fed Index, came in short of expectations.

JOBS: One positive economic report was jobless claims. The Labor Department said the number of people who filed for unemployment benefits fell to its lowest level in seven years last week. Weekly unemployment benefit applications fell by 24,000 to 297,000. Economists had predicted a much smaller drop in jobless claims applications.

THE QUOTE: "People are just a little bit nervous about the entire global economic environment at the moment," said Ryan Larson, head of U.S. equities at the Royal Bank of Canada.

BUYING SAFETY: With stocks sliding, investors bought bonds. The yield on the U.S. 10-year note fell below 2.5 percent for the first time in 2014. The bond rally has surprised many investors this year, since many thought the improving economy and the end of the Federal Reserve’s bond-buying program would cause yields to move higher. There was talk among traders that foreign buyers have raced into the U.S. Treasury market looking for safety and bigger yields, which might be distorting the move in bonds. Despite their fall, yields of U.S.government bond are higher than those of some developed economies.

"This flight to quality is overwhelming bond investors," said Tom di Galoma, a fixed-income trader at ED&F Man Capital.

PRICE POP: U.S. consumer prices rose at their fastest pace in nearly a year in April, the Labor Department said Thursday. The consumer price index, an often-quoted barometer of inflation in the U.S., rose by 0.3 percent last month due to higher food and gas prices. Inflation is on pace to rise 2 percent this year. While not alarming, it is noticeably higher than a year ago.

CISCO SURGE: Telecommunications equipment maker Cisco jumped $1.59, or 7 percent, to $24.40. Cisco reported an adjusted profit of 51 cents a share, three cents better than expectations.


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