NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Stocks finished modestly lower Monday, marking the first monthly decline in 2012, as shaky U.S. economic data dominated the headlines.
Worries about the sovereign debt situation in Europe also returned after Spain reported a 0.3% decline in gross domestic product for the first quarter, a performance that was actually a bit better than expected but still pushed the country into recession territory. The report came as Standard & Poor's slashed its credit ratings for 11 Spanish banks, referring "potentially negative implications" from the downgrade of the country last week.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average gave back 15 points, or 0.1%, to close at 13,213. The S&P 500 dipped 5 points, or 0.4%, to settle at 1398, and the Nasdaq dropped by 23 points, or 0.7%, to finish at 3046.
For the month, the Dow finished up less than 2 points, while the S&P 500 and Nasdaq lost 0.7% and 1.8% respectively. The major U.S. equity indices posted their best quarterly gains in years in the first three months of 2012. Year-to-date, the Dow is now up 8.2%, the S&P 500 has added 11.2%, and the Nasdaq has gained 17%.Both the Dow and S&P 500 had risen for four straight days headed into Monday's session, while the Nasdaq snapped a three-session winning streak. Breadth within the Dow was fairly even with 15 gainers, 14 losers and 3M (MMM) finishing flat. The biggest percentage gainers among the blue chips were Cisco (CSCO), Kraft Foods (KFT) and AT&T (T). Kraft shares added 1.2% after the stock was upgraded to overweight with a $45 price target by JPMorgan, saying it expects the company to top Wall Street's earnings expectations when it reports its first-quarter results later this week. Prominent Dow decliners included Bank of America (BAC),Caterpillar (CAT), General Electric (GE), and Procter & Gamble (PG). P&G shares fell 1.3% after the company was downgraded to perform from outperform at Oppenheimer & Co., which expressed frustration with the consumer products giant after last week's quarterly report and lowered outlook. "The company appears to have been disproportionately impacted by sluggish market growth, exacerbated by market share losses which imply P&G's problems are more structural in nature," said the firm, which also removed its $75 price target. "While we expect some incremental improvement in trends, the company is likely to remain growth-challenged and no longer warrants the benefit of the doubt."
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