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Data Rattle Stocks

Wall Street ends lower as a manufacturing report is weaker than expected.

Updated from 4:07 p.m. EST


Dow Jones Industrial Average

closed lower Wednesday, running its losing streak to four sessions as another weak economic report unsettled the Goldilocks crowd.

After a strong opening, the Dow quickly turned lower and finished down 49.71 points, or 0.41%, to 12,031.02. The

S&P 500

was off 10.13 points, or 0.74%, at 1367.81, and the

Nasdaq Composite

dropped 32.36 points, or 1.37%, to 2334.35, pressured by a 15.8% decline in


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About 2.92 billion shares changed hands on the

New York Stock Exchange

, where decliners beat advancers by a 2-to-1 margin. Volume on the Nasdaq was roughly 2.07 billion shares, and losers outpaced winners nearly 3 to 1.

By sector, utility stocks were among few winners of the session, and the Philadelphia Utility Index rose 0.8%. Semiconductor stocks were hit hard, with the Philadelphia Semiconductor Sector Index losing 2%.

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"Today wasn't much more than a correction," said Paul Nolte, director of investments with Hinsdale Associates. "We haven't broken any trend lines. We're starting to look at economic data, and we're getting concerned, but for now it seems like a small decline in an ongoing rally. Investors will be looking at the data more closely as earnings reports are drying up."

Stocks pulled back after the Institute for Supply Management said its October manufacturing survey fell to a reading of 51.2 from 52.9 in September. Analysts had been anticipating a slight uptick from the previous month.

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The report comes a day after the Chicago purchasing managers' index, a review of Midwestern factory activity, was softer than had been forecast.

"It now looks as though the manufacturing slowdown is coming a few months earlier than we expected," said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist with High Frequency Economics. "Overall, this is seriously soft. A sub-50 ISM is likely just a few months away."

Numbers above 50 indicate expansion, while those below it signal a contraction.

Also on the economic docket, the Commerce Department said that construction spending fell 0.3% in September, as private residential construction dropped 1.1%. Economists were looking for no change in spending for the month, following a 0.3% rise in August.

On Tuesday, sluggish data on consumer confidence and the Chicago PMI kept investors on the sidelines. The Dow closed down 5.77 points, the S&P 500 tacked on 0.01 point, and the Nasdaq rose 2.94 points. A late rally prevented the final numbers from being worse for blue chips.

"The market may be saving the day in the final hour, but it often tires of always struggling to post a comeback," said Marc Pado, U.S. market strategist with Cantor Fitzgerald. "On a more macro basis, the market should start to focus on the uncertainty surrounding this year's midterm elections."

Despite the narrowly mixed close, the major indices finished October -- typically a harsh month for equities -- with big gains. The Dow added 401 points, or 3.4%, the S&P 500 rose by 42 points, or 3.1%, and the Nasdaq jumped 109 points, or 4.8%.

"A good number of funds use the end of October for their fiscal year-end," said Pado. "What we could have been seeing over the past few days is some modest window-dressing. This would explain the nice comeback in volume as well."

Meanwhile, the Energy Department released its latest data on weekly crude inventories. Oil stocks were up by 2 million barrels, a bit less than analysts had envisioned, and gasoline stores were down by 2.8 million barrels. Distillate inventories dropped by 2.7 million barrels. Crude futures were down 2 cents to close at $58.71 a barrel.

Treasuries reversed ground and moved higher, with the benchmark 10-year note up 10/32 in price to yield 4.56%. The dollar was slumping against the world's other major currencies. Gold was higher by $12.50 to $619.30 an ounce, and silver added 20.5 cents to $12.47 an ounce.

On the corporate front,


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confirmed plans to merge in a $21 billion stock deal, creating a drug-supply powerhouse. Shares of Caremark lost 2.2%, and CVS dropped 7.4%.

Another deal will see

R.R. Donnelley & Sons

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in a $1.3 billion transaction. Banta was 17.8% higher, finishing at $52.15.

As for the day's earnings,

Time Warner


posted solid quarterly profits and reaffirmed its full-year guidance.

Burger King


topped analysts' estimates and also reiterated its outlook.

Shares of Burger King swelled by 6.7% to close at $17.90. Time Warner was lower by 1.2% to $19.77.


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posted third-quarter earnings of $193 million, or $1.42 a share, surging 82% from the same quarter a year ago. Revenue totaled $902 million, up 14%. Results exceeded the Thomson First Call average estimate for EPS of $1.07 on sales of $871.2 million. MasterCard rocketed higher by $10.97, or 14.8%, to $85.07.

Automakers posted monthly sales results for October.

General Motors

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reported a 22% increase in U.S. sales for the month, and


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saw sales rise 8.1%.



said U.S. auto sales fell 1.6% in October.

Overseas, Europe's equities were higher. London's FTSE 100 was up 0.3% to 6150, and Frankfurt's Xetra DAX advanced 0.4% to 6292. Asia's shares were mixed, with Tokyo's Nikkei ending down 0.2% to 16,375, and Hong Kong's Hang Seng closing up 0.7% at 18,453.

On Thursday, both Caremark and CVS will post quarterly earnings results. In addition,

Electronic Arts




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Whole Foods Market


will report.