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Weak economic, earnings reports spur sharp decline in stock market

The stock market fell sharply Tuesday because investors have grown increasingly worried about the economy.

The Standard & Poor's 500 -- the benchmark for most U.S. mutual funds -- lost 2.6 percent, giving up all of its gains for the year. It is down 0.3 percent for the year and is off nearly 8 percent since reaching a high for the year of 1,363 on April 29.

A series of weak economic reports and poor earnings reports from several big companies spurred the decline.

The Commerce Department reported that consumers cut their spending in June for the first time in nearly two years. Analysts had predicted a slight increase. Incomes also rose by the smallest amount since September, reflecting a weak job market.

The report came one day after a weak manufacturing report. And on Friday the government said that in the first half of the year, the economy grew at its slowest pace since the recession ended in June 2009.

"The market is starting to wonder where the growth is going to come from," said Nick Kalivas, a vice president of financial research at MF Global. "It hasn't hit the panic button yet, but that's where we're drifting."

The S&P 500 lost 32.89 points, closing at 1,254.05. It has fallen for seven straight days, losing 6.8 percent in that time. That's the S&P's longest string of losses since the height of the financial crisis in October 2008.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 265.87 points, or 2.2 percent, to close at 11,866.62. The Dow has fallen eight straight days and 858 points, or 6.7 percent, in that time.

The Nasdaq composite fell 75.37, or 2.7 percent, to 2,669.24. And the Russell 2000, an index of smaller companies that many investors look to as a sign of market optimism about growth, fell 3.3 percent. It is now down 2.2 percent for the year.

All 30 stocks in the Dow fell. General Electric Co., Pfizer Inc. and Home Depot Inc. led the index lower with losses of 4 percent or more. All but 13 of the 500 companies in the S&P index fell.

Archer Daniels Midland Co. dropped 6 percent after the agricultural conglomerate said it missed Wall Street's profit forecasts. High-end retailer Coach Inc. lost nearly 7 percent after the company said margins declined, cutting into profits.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to a low for the year of 2.61 percent from 2.75 percent Monday. Investors bought Treasury securities, which are considered safe, because of the economic worries. That drove prices up and yields, which move the opposite way, down. Gold, another asset investors buy when they're worried about the direction of the economy, gained 1.4 percent to $1,645 an ounce.

Last year when the economy slowed sharply, the Federal Reserve began a bond-buying stimulus program, known as quantitative easing. That was credited with helping the U.S. economy avoid another recession.

Now, the Fed has indicated it does not have plans to implement another round of what is called monetary stimulus. And the new focus on deficit reduction in Washington makes it even less likely that Congress would approve what is called fiscal stimulus.

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