Stocks Close Lower

A drop in oil prices fails to lift the major indexes

Stocks fell into the close Friday, weighed down by caution before the earnings season heats up, and profit-taking after a weak of gains, according to Standard and Poor's Marketscope. The market was unaided by a drop in crude oil prices to $53.32 a barrel.

On Friday, the Dow Jones industrial average lost 84.98 points, or 0.54%, to 10,461.34. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 9.94 points, or 0.83%, to 1,181.20. The Nasdaq composite index declined 19.44 points, or 0.96%, to 1,999.35.

Looking ahead to next week, a number of closely-watched economic reports will be released, beginning Tuesday with figures on the international trade balance. Also on Tuesday, the Federal Reserve will release the minutes of its Federal Open Market Committee meeting held on Mar. 22. On Wednesday, retail sales data for March will be reported, and on Friday the monthly index of industrial production is due out.

The week will also be a busy one for earnings reports. Among the companies reporting quarterly results next week will be Apple Computer (AAPL ) and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD ) on Wednesday, Pepsi (PEP ) on Thursday, and Citigroup (C ) and General Electric (GE ) on Friday.

There were no major economic reports released on Friday.

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan spoke at a consumer affairs conference about consumer finance, but did not comment on the economy or future interest-rate changes. On Thursday night, St. Louis Federal Reserve President William Poole said that he was not overly concerned about inflation, but that if it became a more fundamental problem the Federal Reserve would have to act more "vigorously."

On Friday, crude oil prices fell a further 79 cents to settle at $53.32 a barrel, on speculation there is sufficient supply to meet consumer demand.

In corporate news, media group Time Warner (TWX ) and U.S. cable TV operator Comcast (CMCSA ) have agreed to pay buy bankrupt cable operator Adelphia Communications in a cash and stock deal worth more than $17.6 billion, the Wall Street Journal reported. The paper noted that a rival $16.5 billion all-cash bid from Cablevision Systems (CVC ) could still prevent the deal from happening, but it cited a source saying that the Cablevision bid lacks sufficient detail to stop the transaction from going ahead now.

Retailer ShopKo Stores (SKO ) said Friday that it has agreed to be acquired by an affiliate of a private equity firm in a deal the company valued at about $715 million, excluding debt. The investment firm Goldner Hawn Johsnson & Morrison will pay $24 for each Shopko share.

Documents for a reinsurance transaction that is at the center of federal and state investigation into American International Group (AIG ) were doctored two months after the deal, The New York Times reported Friday. The Times quoted unnamed executives saying the documents relating to the deal between AIG and General Re, a unit of Berkshire Hathaway, were altered by General Re employees. On Thursday, the Securities and Exchange Commission said after the market close that it had obtained a court order to prevent AIG executives from destroying or hiding documents related to its investigation.

Consulting and technology services firm Accenture (ACN ) late Thursday reported second-quarter profit rose 70%, to a higher-than-expected $209.8 million, compared with $123.1 million in the period a year ago. Gross margins, however, fell and missed the group's target.

Dow component General Motors (GM ) fell Friday, after Deustche Bank downgraded the carmaker from hold to sell.

Steelmaker United States Steel (X ) also declined after investment bank CIBC World Markets downgraded the company.

Treasury Market

Treasuries were mostly lower Friday, with the yield on the benchmark 10-year note at 4.48%.

World Markets

European stock markets closed higher Friday. London's Financial Times-Stock Exchange 100 index finished up 6.60 points, or 0.13%, to 4,983.60, with the banking sector and travel groups providing support.

Germany's DAX index gained 11.16 points, or 0.25%, to 4,400.68, even as data showed that German exports declined in February after rising the most in two years the month before. Exports fell 2.8% after increasing a revised 5.8% in January.

In Paris, the CAC 40 index ended the day flat, falling 0.08 point to 4130.26. Having traded higher for most of the session, stocks fell following declines on Wall Street.

Asian markets finished higher on Friday. In Japan, the Nikkei 225 index gained 63.76 points, or 0.54%, to 11,874.75, as tech stocks trended higher. News that Japanese machinery orders rose 4.9% also lifted the market.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 64.37 points, or 0.47%, to 13,666.72.

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