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Stocks falls as industrials Pace Retreat

U.S. stocks fell for a second day Wednesday, as industrial and phone companies led a retreat before the government’s jobs report Friday.

Alcoa Inc. slid to its lowest level since December as industrial companies paced declines among nine of 10 groups in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index. The health-care group was the benchmark’s only advancer as Tenet Healthcare Corp. and HCA Holdings Inc. climbed more than 5.8 percent. The Nasdaq Biotechnology Index rose to an intraday record.

The S&P 500 fell 0.4 percent to 2,098.53. It dropped 0.9 percent in the past two days for the biggest slide in five weeks. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 106.47 points, or 0.6 percent, to 18,096.90. The Nasdaq Composite Index fell 0.3 percent. About 6.4 billion shares traded hands, 8 percent below the three-month average.

“The market is vulnerable to some sort of short-term decline, primarily because valuations are stretched,” Dan Morris, a global investment strategist at TIAA-CREF Asset Management in New York, said by phone. His firm oversees about $611 billion. “It’s hard to find inexpensive parts of the market.”

The S&P 500 trades at 18.9 times earnings, an almost a five-year high and compared with an average of 16.9 since 1936, data compiled by Bloomberg and S&P Dow Jones Indices show.

While the S&P 500 rose to fresh records four times in February, its 2.4 percent gain this year trails all but two of the 24 developed markets. The Dow in February posted its best month in two years.

Economic reports this week could give clues on when the Federal Reserve may increase its benchmark interest rate. Companies in the U.S. added 212,000 workers to payrolls in February, figures from Roseland, New Jersey-based ADP Research Institute showed. The January reading was revised to 250,000 from a previously reported advance of 213,000.

The data comes before the Labor Department’s report Friday in which economists predict nonfarm payrolls rose 235,000 last month and the unemployment rate fell to 5.6 percent from 5.7 percent in January.

Service industries unexpectedly expanded at a faster pace in February, encouraging companies that make up the biggest part of the U.S. economy to take on more workers.

The Institute for Supply Management’s non-manufacturing index increased to 56.9 from the prior month’s 56.7, the Tempe, Arizona-based group said Wednesday. A gauge above 50 shows expansion and the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for 56.5.

The Federal Reserve’s Beige Book showed most of the economy continued to expand from January through mid-February, with consumer spending rising and manufacturing gaining.

Industrial stocks in the S&P 500 fell 0.8 percent. Alcoa Inc. declined 3.9 percent and Century Aluminum Co. lost 17 percent, its worst drop since 2011, after Bank of America analyst Timna Tanners cut their ratings to neutral from buy, citing in part the impact from a stronger U.S. dollar.