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Worried about Europe, investors dump stocks in favor of bonds

Unable to shake their worries about Europe, investors drove stocks to a four-month low Thursday and piled into bonds, sending the yield on the 10-year Treasury note close to an all-time low.

The Dow Jones industrial average posted its 11th loss in 12 days after a pair of discouraging economic reports further unnerved traders already concerned about a possible exit from the euro by Greece.

The Dow lost 156.06 points, most of it toward the end of the trading day, to close at 12,442.49. It is down almost 6 percent for May, and what had been a strong year for stocks has been reduced to a slender 1.8 percent gain.

The Standard & Poor's 500 stock index closed at its lowest point since Jan. 17.

The yield on the benchmark 10-year note hit 1.69 percent. That is lower than any 3 p.m. reading since at least 1953, according to records kept by the Federal Reserve.

According to other financial data providers, including Dow Jones and Bloomberg, the yield on the 10-year dipped slightly lower, to 1.67 percent, at other points in the trading day last September.

"It's still seen as one of the safest investments in the world," said Guy LeBas, chief fixed income strategist for Janney Montgomery Scott. "If you compare Europe's problems to our problems in the U.S., it doesn't look so bad over here."

The dollar and gold both rose as traders sought refuge in lower-risk assets.

Stock indexes opened lower on Wall Street following drops in European markets. The declines accelerated at midmorning after the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia said manufacturing slowed in the mid-Atlantic region for the first time in eight months. The report was far worse than analysts had been expecting.

In other trading, the Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 19.94 points to 1,304.86, its lowest close since Jan. 17. The Nasdaq composite fell 60.35 points to 2,813.69.

In Europe, Fitch ratings agency downgraded Greece deeper into junk territory Thursday and warned that a Greek exit from the euro currency is "probable" if new national elections next month produce an anti-bailout government. Fitch cut Greece's rating by one notch, from B- to CCC, the lowest possible for a country that is not in default.

Spain was forced to pay sharply higher interest rates to raise $3.18 billion in a debt auction Thursday. And shares of Bankia, which Spain nationalized last week, plunged 20 percent on a report from the newspaper El Mundo stating that depositors have withdrawn more than $1 billion since last Wednesday.