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March 21, 2012

US stocks slightly down, continuing bumpy week



NEW YORK (AP) — Wall Street edged lower Wednesday after a quiet trading day that left the indexes little changed.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 45.57 points, or 0.3 percent, to 13,124.62. It had been up 20 shortly after the opening bell. The Dow had its biggest loss in two weeks on Tuesday, falling 68.94 points.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index closed down 2.63 points, or 0.2 percent, at 1,402.89. The Nasdaq composite average closed up 1.17 at 3,075.32.

Hewlett–Packard led the Dow lower, sliding 2.2 percent after saying it would combine its printer and PC divisions to save money and improve efficiency. H–P is coping with declining sales of PCs and printer ink as smartphones, tablets and electronic document–sharing gain popularity.

Earlier Wednesday, the National Association of Realtors released a mixed report about the state of the housing market. Sales of previously occupied homes dipped last month, but the sales pace for the winter was the best in five years, NAR said. Housing has been dragging on the economic recovery; an oversupply of homes has decimated construction and other trades in many parts of the country.

Without strongly positive or negative news to move the market, stocks meandered sideways for most of the day. John Manley, chief equity strategist for Wells Fargo (News - Alert) Advantage Funds, said the lack of market–moving events is generally good for stocks. Traders are increasingly confident that the risks hanging over the market from Europe, oil prices and China will blow over, he said.

"If it hasn't happened today, that means it might not happen tomorrow," Manley said. "My guess is, no news means a slight upward bias to the market."

The yield on the 10–year Treasury note fell to 2.30 percent from 2.36 percent late Tuesday. Gold and crude oil prices rose slightly.

Stocks closed lower on Tuesday after two reports signaled an economic slowdown in China. Supercharged growth in China over the past three years has helped sustain the global economic recovery. The Dow had its biggest loss since March 6.

The Dow is still up 1.3 percent this month and 7.4 percent so far this year. Other indexes are up even more for the year: The S&P 500 has gained 11.6 percent; the technology–focused Nasdaq composite 18.1 percent.

Among stocks making big moves Wednesday:

— Baker Hughes (News - Alert) fell 5.8 percent, the most of any company in the S&P 500, after the oil–field services company said its profit margin would fall below last quarter's as companies shift from crude to natural gas exploration. Baker Hughes faces shortages of raw materials used in its pressure pumping business, a decline in fleet usage and higher–than–expected personnel and logistics costs.

— Hartford Financial jumped 1.4 percent after the company said it would get out of the annuity business and focus on property and casualty insurance, group benefits and mutual funds. Hedge fund manager John Paulson had urged Hartford to spin off businesses.

— Green Mountain Coffee Roasters soared 10 percent. The company said it was expanding its partnership with Starbucks to sell Starbucks' Vue coffee packs for use in Green Mountain's Keurig single–cup machines. The news relieved investors concerned that Starbucks' new single–cup Verismo (News - Alert) coffee machine might be a competitive threat to Keurig.

— FSI International, which makes equipment for producing microelectronics, jumped 5.9 percent after the company reported that orders skyrocketed in the latest quarter, helping it beat analysts' forecasts.



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