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U.S. Stocks Open Lower, Extending Wednesday's Steep Declines

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02/21/2013 | 03:57pm CEST

--Stocks decline at open; DJIA down 41, S&P loses six

--Euro-zone economic weakness shakes global markets

--Stocks extend declines from Wednesday following Federal Reserve meeting minutes

   By Alexandra Scaggs 

NEW YORK--Stocks tilted lower after Thursday's open, as euro-zone economic weakness and the threat of an end to Federal Reserve stimulus action weighed on markets.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 41 points, or 0.3%, to 13887. The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index gave up six points, or 0.4%, to 1506 and the Nasdaq Composite Index lost 12 points, or 0.4%, to 3152.

Stocks extended Wednesday's steep declines. On Wednesday, blue chips posted their second-biggest drop of the year as investors were jarred by the potential for an earlier-than-expected end to the Fed's experimental bond-buying programs.

"The market was looking for an excuse to go down and the Fed provided it," said Paul Zemsky, chief investment officer of multiasset strategies at ING U.S. Investment Management, which oversees about $170 billion.

Initial claims for jobless benefits rose to 362,000 in the latest week, more than the 350,000 expected. The consumer price index for January was unchanged on the month though, excluding volatile food and energy costs, it increased 0.3%.

A trio of reports are due at 10 a.m. Existing-home sales for January are expected to show a decline of 1% to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 4.89 million; the Philadelphia Federal Reserve's February index of business activity is seen rising to +3.0 from January's -5.8; and the Conference Board's Leading Economic Index for January is forecast to gain 0.3%.

Wal-Mart gained 1.1% after the blue-chip discount retailer reported earnings that topped analyst estimates, helping to offset a first-quarter earnings outlook that was below current analyst projections.

Among other Dow components, Hewlett-Packard declined 0.5%. The technology company reports fiscal first-quarter results after the closing bell.

The losses in U.S. stocks were more modest than declines in overseas markets.

In Europe, the Stoxx Europe 600 fell 1.2% on disappointing euro-zone data and worries that the Fed may soon start winding down its asset purchases. Markit's preliminary composite purchasing-managers' index for the euro zone fell to 47.3 in February from January's 48.6, and below expectations of 48.5. Readings below 50 indicate contraction. Within the euro zone, Italy's FTSE MIB skidded 2.6% to a two-month low and Germany's DAX slid 1.8%.

Write to Alexandra Scaggs at alexandra.scaggs@dowjones.com.

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