Stocks Slide after Soft Economic Data

Reports on manufacturing, construction, and pending home sales all posted declines. Time Warner's earnings fell short of Street estimates

Stocks finished lower Wednesday, as a batch of soft economic reports helped send the Dow to its fourth consecutive daily loss. Traders were also considering a mixed bag of earnings reports, with other key economic data on tap later in the week.

On Wednesday, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 50.91 points, or 0.52%, to 12,031.02, hurt by weakness in United Technologies (UTX) and Alcoa (AA). The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index dropped 10.13 points, or 0.74%, to 1,367.81. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite slid 32.36 points, or 1.37%, to 2,334.35.

NYSE breadth was negative, with 22 issues declining for every 11 advancing. Nasdaq breadth was 23-8 negative.

The markets are unlikely to react much to the Nov. 7 elections, some analysts say. "In general, both the stock and the bond markets are fully reflecting the Republicans losing ground to the Democrats and losing one of the two houses," says Rob Brown, chief investment officer at Genworth Financial Asset Management.

A heavy slate of economic data was in focus Wednesday. The Institute for Supply Management's index of manufacturing activity fell to 51.2 in October, following September's decline to 52.9. The results were weaker than expected, but not as dismal as some feared after the soft Chicago PMI report, says Action Economics.

Construction spending dropped 0.3% in September, from a downwardly revised flat reading in August. Separately, the National Association of Realtors' pending home sale index for October dipped to 109.1 in October, above forecasts but down from September's 110.1 print.

Looking ahead, Thursday's calendar holds releases on productivity, factory orders, and weekly jobless claims.

In corporate news, Time Warner (TWX) was modestly lower after the media conglomerate reported higher third-quarter earnings but missed analyst expectations.

Pizza chain Papa Johns (PZZA) was sharply lower after the company posted a 21% rise in third-quarter profit, slightly below Wall Street estimates.

On the upside, Burger King (BKC), MasterCard (MA), and Marsh McLennan (MMC) were higher on solid quarterly results.

M&A talk was also percolating. Drugstore chain CVS (CVS) and prescription benefits manager Caremark Rx (CMX) agreed to a merger reportedly valued at more than $21 billion.

Auto sales numbers were also trickling in. General Motors (GM) posted a 20% jump in October sales, while Ford's (F)'s increased 8%. DaimlerChrysler (DCX) reported a 2% decline. Toyota's (TM) 9% sales gain was much weaker than expected, says Action Economics.

In the energy markets, December West Texas Intermediate crude futures fell two cents to $58.71 a barrel after a weekly inventory report showed an unexpectedly modest rebound.

European markets finished modestly higher. In London, the FTSE-100 index rose 20.4 points, or 0.33%, to 6,149.6. Germany's DAX index added 22.98 points, or 0.37%, to 6,291.9. In Paris, the CAC 40 index was up 22.13 points, or 0.41%, to 5,370.86.

Asian markets ended mixed. In Japan, the Nikkei 225 index lost 24.13 points, or 0.15%, to 16,375.26. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index advanced 129.3 points, or 0.71%, to 18,453.65. Korea's Kospi index gained 9.8 points, or 0.72%, to 1,374.35.

Treasury Market

Treasury yields resumed their recent downtrend after the reports on manufacturing activity, construction spending, and pending home sales all posted declines. The 10-year note rose in price to 102-15/32 for a yield of 4.56%, while the 30-year bond climbed to 97-06/32 for a yield of 4.68%.

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