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U.S. Stocks Hold Declines Midday on Growth Worries, Fed Concerns

02/21/2013 | 12:24pm US/Eastern

--Stocks hold declines midday; DJIA down 53, S&P falls eight points

--Euro-zone economic weakness, Philadelphia Fed report weight on stocks

--Nine of 10 S&P sectors fall; growth-sensitive materials, energy stocks lag

   By Alexandra Scaggs 

NEW YORK--U.S. stocks slipped as investors were jarred by reports indicating a surprise decline in conditions for mid-Atlantic manufacturers and euro-zone economic weakness.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 53 points, or 0.4%, to 13875, extending Wednesday's declines. The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index gave up eight points, or 0.6%, to 1503, as nine of 10 sectors traded in the red, with growth-sensitive materials and energy sectors lagging. The Nasdaq Composite Index lost 26 points, or 0.8%, to 3138.

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 multi-asset strategies at ING U.S. Investment Management, which oversees about $170 billion.

Stocks extended their declines after the Philadelphia Federal Reserve's February index of business activity, a read of business conditions for manufacturers in the region, posted a surprise decline to -12.5 from January's -5.8.

"The fact that we are seeing evidence of a continuing slowdown in the manufacturing sector is a bit concerning," said Jim Baird, chief investment strategist for Plante Moran Financial Advisors, which oversees $7.2 billion in assets.

Separately, 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.

Existing home sales for January showed a slight increase to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 4.92 million, mostly in line with expectations. The Conference Board's Leading Economic Index for January gained 0.2%, just below expectations of a 0.3% rise.

Wal-Mart gained 3.2% after the blue-chip discount retailer reported earnings that topped analyst estimates, helping offset a first-quarter earnings outlook that was below current analyst projections.

In Europe, the Stoxx Europe 600 fell 1.4% on disappointing euro-zone data. 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 2.9% and Germany's DAX slid 1.9%.

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 declined 0.1% to a several-month low of $1,576.90 a troy ounce. Crude-oil futures lost 2.2% to $93.12 a barrel. Yields on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note fell to 1.974% as prices rose.

Tesla Motors skidded 10% 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.

Dow component Hewlett-Packard nudged 0.4% higher ahead of fiscal first-quarter results after the closing bell.

Carlyle Group slumped 7.3% after it missed analyst estimates for its earnings and revenue. The private-equity firm recorded lower performance fees on top of an investment loss.

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 10% after the business process-management company reported much better-than-expected earnings and revenue, and provided a 2013 outlook that was above current projections.

Hormel Foods rose 0.7% after it reported fiscal first-quarter earnings and revenue that were in line 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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