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U.S. Stocks Decline Broadly as Europe, Fed Worries Weigh

02/21/2013 | 10:12am US/Eastern
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--Stocks tilt broadly lower in early market action, extending Wednesday's Fed-sparked declines

--All 10 sectors of the S&P 500 decline; index loses eight points

--Jobless claims higher than expected, investors look to housing and business readings

By Alexandra Scaggs

NEW YORK--Stocks extended their steep Wednesday declines in early trading, as euro-zone economic weakness and the threat of an end to Federal Reserve stimulus weighed on markets ahead of readings on the housing market and business activity.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 57 points, or 0.4%, to 13870. The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index gave up eight points, or 0.5%, to 1504 and the Nasdaq Composite Index lost 17 points, or 0.5%, to 3147.

All 10 sectors of the S&P 500 were in the red. Blue chips posted their second-biggest drop of the year Wednesday, 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, and increased by 0.3% excluding volatile food and energy costs.

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 1.2% 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 shed 0.1%. The technology company reports fiscal first-quarter results after the closing bell.

The losses in U.S. stock futures 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 2.4% and Germany's DAX slid 1.6%.

The weak data sent the euro down to a six-week low against the dollar. Meanwhile, the dollar lost ground against the yen.

Asian markets also suffered steep declines, highlighted by a 3% tumble in China's Shanghai Composite to a one-month low, the biggest percentage decline seen since November 2011. Exacerbating worries about the Fed easing up on its stimulus program, China's State Council said on Wednesday that it would continue with market controls to curb increases in property prices.

Japan's Nikkei Stock Average shed 1.4% and Australia's S&P ASX 200 dropped 2.3%.

Gold futures slipped 0.3% to a seven-month low of $1,573.60 a troy ounce, putting them on an early track to suffer a sixth-straight loss. Crude-oil futures lost 2.1% to $93.21 a barrel. Yields on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note fell to 1.981% as prices rose.

In other corporate news, Tesla Motors shed 8.2% after the electric-car maker reported a wider-than-anticipated fourth-quarter loss and revenue that rose less than expected, as gross margin narrowed sharply.

Chesapeake Energy tacked on 0.8% after it beat Wall Street's expectations for profit and revenue in its latest earnings report.

VeriFone Systems tumbled 38% after the electronic-payments company indicated that fiscal first-quarter earnings and revenue would fall well short of expectations, citing weak economic conditions in Europe and delayed projects from several major customers. It also provided a downbeat outlook for the current quarter.

Pegasystems surged 13% after the business process-management company reported much better-than-expected earnings and revenue, and provided a 2013 outlook that was above current projections.

Carlyle Group slipped 9% after it missed analyst estimates for its earnings and revenue. The private-equity firm recorded lower performance fees on top of an investment loss.

Hormel Foods edged up 0.6% after it reported fiscal first-quarter earnings and revenue that were inline with analyst estimates and raised its full-year earnings outlook to reflect the benefit of buying the Skippy peanut-butter business last month.

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

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