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April 18, 2013

Slight decline in midday trading on Wall Street

NEW YORK (AP) — — Disappointing earnings from a range of companies pushed the stock market lower on Thursday, giving major indexes their third loss this week.

Morgan Stanley, UnitedHealth Group and others sank in Thursday trading after turning in their quarterly financial results. Earnings and revenue dropped at Morgan Stanley as the bank made less money from trading bonds and commodities, a common theme for many investment banks this earnings season. Morgan Stanley lost 4 percent to $20.59.

Shortly after 1 p.m., the Standard & Poor's 500 was down five points to 1,547, a decline of 0.3 percent.

Compared to the steep drops earlier this week, the losses on Thursday looked tame. The S&P 500 lost 2 percent on Monday, its worst day of the year, when a slowdown in China's economic growth set off a rout in prices for oil, copper and other commodities and pummeled the stocks of companies that make them. After reaching an all-time high a week ago, the index has slumped 3 percent.

"Earnings are always important," said Randy Frederick, managing director of active trading and derivatives at the brokerage Charles Schwab. "But this week they've taken a back seat to all the other headlines, like slower growth in China, the sharp sell-off in gold and then the bombing in Boston."

UnitedHealth's earnings fell short of analysts' estimates, and the country's largest health insurer said it expects federal budget cuts to pressure its profits this year. Its stock lost 4 percent to $59.65. Ebay fell 5 percent to $53.38 after the online auction company cut its forecast for profits in the current quarter.

Verizon, Pepsi and Union Pacific surged after reporting better quarterly results. Verizon Communications' profits beat analysts' predictions as wireless revenue kept rising at a rate that's the envy of the industry. Profits and sales for Pepsi also surpassed estimates.

Verizon's stock gained 3 percent to $51.23, while Pepsi's climbed 4 percent to $81.94.

Higher shipping rates pushed Union Pacific's profit up 11 percent, and the railroad said it expects to ship more goods later this year. Union Pacific rose 4 percent to $142.87.

After the closing bell, the tech sector weighs in with earnings from IBM, Google and Microsoft.

The market didn't get any help from economic news early Thursday.

The Labor Department reported that the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits increased 4,000 last week to 352,000. The Philadelphia branch of the Federal Reserve reported a slowdown in manufacturing in the mid-Atlantic region. That survey was weaker than economists had been expecting.

In other trading, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 40 points to 14,579, down 0.3 percent. The Nasdaq composite fell 25 points to 3,179, down 0.8 percent.

Frederick said the market would be down even more were it not for buying from traders who jump in when certain benchmarks in the S&P 500 index are crossed. The S&P 500 index briefly slipped beneath its 50-day moving average of 1,543 in morning trading, then quickly bounced back.

"The technicians watch the 50-day moving average closely," Frederick said. "Anytime the market breaks below it, they're going to jump in and buy."

In the market for U.S. government bonds, Treasury prices rose and their yields fell as traders moved money into low-risk assets.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note slipped back to 1.68 percent, near its lowest level of the year. That's down from 1.70 percent late Wednesday.

Commodities prices held steady following sharp falls earlier this week. Crude oil was little changed at $87 a barrel and copper was up 2 cents at $3.21 a pound. Gold edged up $4 to $1,387 an ounce.

Crude has lost $10 a barrel over the past two weeks as the outlook for the global economy weakens and oil supplies remain high. Gold had its biggest plunge in 30 years on Monday as inflation in the U.S. remained weak and worries escalated that European central banks might start selling gold.

 

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