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Market Recap: Despite Announced Profits, Investors Sell, Sell, Sell

Markets closed down today:

▼ Dow: -0.53 percent

▼ Nasdaq: -0.79 percent

▼ S&P: -0.59 percent

Precious metals:

▲ Gold: up +0.08 percent to $1,642.02 an ounce

▲ Silver: down +0.52 percent to settle at $31.73 an ounce

Commodities:

▼ Oil: -0.23 percent

Markets closed down because:

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.

Stock indexes fell after two relatively weak economic reports came out mid-morning. 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.

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 Friday 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.

The yield on Spanish 10-year notes rose to 5.87 percent, an increase of 0.06 percentage point.

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.

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

Stocks started drifting lower after noon. By mid-afternoon the Dow was down 136 points. The S&P 500 was hit by a drop in Apple.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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