Stocks Finish Lower

The Nasdaq reached a five-month low. Investors may be cautious ahead of Friday's employment report

Stocks finished lower on Tuesday, as investors weighed some corporate news and a drop in consumer confidence. Some activity was likely related to portfolio adjustments prior to the end of the quarter and trepidation ahead of the March labor report on Friday, says Standard & Poor's MarketScope. Basic material and cyclical stocks led the decline.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 79.95 points, or 0.76%, to 10,405.7. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index was down 8.92 points, or 0.76%, to 1,165.36. The Nasdaq composite index lost 18.64 points, or 0.94%, to a five-month low of 1,973.88.

In the energy markets Tuesday, May West Texas Intermediate crude oil settled up 18 cents at $54.23 per barrel.

On Wednesday, investors will get an update on gross domestic product. Economists expect the final reading for fourth-quarter GDP to be revised up to 4.0% from the preliminary gain of 3.8% and the advanced estimate of 3.1%.

On Tuesday, the latest update on consumer confidence slipped to 102.4 in March from a revised 104.4 in February (104.0 initially), a little weaker than the 103.5 median forecast. Firm energy prices and a weak month for stock performance dragged confidence lower, says Action Economics.

Among companies in the news, Hewlett-Packard (HPQ ) has reportedly selected a new CEO. News wires are reporting that NCR Corp. (NCR ) chief executive Mark Hurd will succeed former H-P chairman and CEO Carly Fiorina. H-P shares rose on the news.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Warren Buffett, chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A ), has been called by regulators to answer questions next month about any involvement he might have had in a controversial insurance transaction between a Berkshire unit and American International Group (AIG ).

Hank Greenberg reportedly will retire as AIG's nonexecutive chairman, amid an investigation into the insurance company.

In merger news, MCI Inc. (MCIP ) accepted a sweetened takeover offer from Verizon (VZ ). Verizon raised its cash-and-stock offer for MCI to $23.10 a share. However, this bid is still below Qwest Communications' (Q ) latest $8.45 billion bid.

Search engine Google (GOOG ) said it will acquire Urchin Software for an undisclosed amount.

Among the big-name companies on the earnings calendar this week: financial services outfit A.G. Edwards (AGE ) on Thursday and electronics retailer Best Buy (BBY ) on Friday.

Treasury Market

Treasury yields were swept lower by the confidence downdraft in March, which confirmed that the high cost of energy and lower equity performance in the month took a toll on sentiment, says Action Economics. The data was even weaker than expected and helped the 10-year note dive back below 4.60%, says Action Economics.

World Markets

European stock markets finished mixed on Tuesday amid some disappointing economic news from France and Japan. London's Financial Times-Stock Exchange 100 index was down 3.5 points, or 0.07%, to 4,919.

Germany's DAX index gained 8.29 points, or 0.19%, to 4,351.89. In Paris, the CAC 40 index was up 3.34 points, or 0.08%, to 4,081.65. Business confidence in France unexpectedly dropped to the lowest in 15 months in March as rising oil costs and the euro's gains held back consumer spending and export growth, according to Bloomberg.

Asian markets finished sharply lower on Tuesday. In Japan, the Nikkei 225 index fell 192.48 points, or 1.63%, to 11,599.82 after government reports showed household spending in February fell 4.1%, more than expected, and the unemployment rate rose to 4.7% from a six-year low of 4.5%.

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index declined 185.22 points, or 1.36%, to 13,411.88.

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