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News that consumer confidence has fallen to a more than four-year low left stocks mixed today.

Still, analysts said the drop in the Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index might be good news, since it increases pressure on the Fed to cut interest rates before its March 20 meeting.

"At this point, the market almost prefers a bad number because it raises the prospects that interest rates will be cut sooner rather than later," said Richard E. Cripps, chief market strategist for Legg Mason of Baltimore. "It certainly doesn't hurt the chances that the Fed would reduce interest rates before the next meeting."

At 1 p.m., the Dow Jones industrial average was up 10.81 to 10,653.34, after being in negative territory most of the morning. The Nasdaq composite index was down 43.45 at 2,265.05, while the Standard & Poor's 500 index declined 0.03 to 1,267.62.

IBM fell 78 cents to $104.52, while Microsoft rose $1.25 to $60.81.

Merck lost 46 cents to trade at $78.87 and Wal-Mart dropped 72 cents to $50.35.

The sell-off came as the Conference Board, a business-supported research group, reported that its Consumer Confidence Index had dropped to 106.8, its lowest level in more than four years because of increasing pessimism about jobs and the economy.

EMC dropped $1.71 to $43.29, Oracle lost $1.31 to $21.88, Hewlett-Packard declined 69 cents to $29.31, Ariba fell $1.19 to $18.50 and Applied Micro dropped $3.25 to $31.81.

Gateway dropped 51 cents to $17.30 after Merrill Lynch & Co. analyst Steven Fortuna said the personal-computer maker is likely to lower its forecast for earnings per share this year to "well below the $1.28 Street consensus."

JDS Uniphase fell $3.13 to $29.50. The No. 1 maker of fiber-optic parts said it will fire 3,000 workers in San Jose, California, and Ottawa to trim costs as demand for its products slumps.

General Electric slipped 17 cents to $47.81. The European Commission plans to extend its antitrust review of the company's proposed $44 billion purchase of Honeywell International by up to four months because it could dominate markets for aviation electronics and jet engines.

Honeywell lost 88 cents to $47.80.

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