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Stocks drop as spooked investors sell despite good earnings reports

A slew of U.S. companies announced big profits Thursday, but investors spooked about the economy sold stocks anyway.

Investors shifted between buying and selling early, then stuck with selling after deciding that the strong earnings results weren't enough to make up for weak reports on jobs, housing and manufacturing.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 68.65 points, or 0.5 percent, to close at 12,964.10. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index dropped 8.22 points, or 0.6 percent, to 1,376.92.

Morgan Stanley rose 2.3 percent after it beat Wall Street's earnings and revenue estimates. UnitedHealth Group Inc. rose 2.4 percent after reporting higher profits. EBay, Southwest Airlines and Bank of America also beat forecasts.

Stock indexes fell after two relatively weak economic reports came out midmorning. An index of regional manufacturing compiled by the Philadelphia branch of the Federal Reserve dropped sharply, and the National Association of Realtors said home sales fell 2.6 percent last month.

Earlier, the Labor Department said applications for unemployment benefits dipped 2,000 to 386,000. When the number is above 375,000, investors take it as a sign that hiring isn't strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.

"None of these [reports] were disastrous, but they're not as strong as we like to see," said Brian Lazorishak, a portfolio manager at Chase Investment Counsel in Charlottesville, Va.

In other trading, the Nasdaq composite fell 23.89 points, or 0.8 percent, to 3,007.56. Tech stocks could be in for some gains today following a strong earnings report after the closing bell Thursday from Microsoft. The software maker was up 2.8 percent in post-market trading after reporting a rise in sales of its Windows operating system.

Thursday's slide began from the start of trading. Investors were on edge after stocks fell a day earlier on worries that Spain could have trouble paying down its government debt. Adding to the jitters, the Bank of Spain had reported that bad loans at the country's banks had hit an 18-year high.

Before the opening bell Thursday, investors were nervously watching a sale of new government bonds from Spain. The auction met with high demand, and more bonds were sold than expected, but yields rose anyway.

European markets mostly fell. Spain's IBEX index fell 2.4 percent, Greece's main index 1.8 percent and France's CAC-40 2 percent.

All but three of the 30 stocks in the Dow fell. Companies whose profits are more closely tied to the economic cycle fell the most. Alcoa, an aluminum maker, and DuPont, a chemicals company, lost more than 1 percent each.

Travelers, an insurer, rose 4.3 percent after a strong earnings report.

Eight of the 10 industry sectors in the S&P 500 fell. The biggest losers were industrial and information technology stocks, down more than 1 percent each.

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