The market succumbed to profit-taking Wednesday afternoon as some disappointing economic news took a belated toll on stocks.

The

Dow Jones Industrial Average

closed down 42.89 points, or 0.4%, to 10,672; the

S&P 500

was off 5.17 points, or 0.45%, to 1,152; and the

Nasdaq Composite

dropped 3.88 points, or 0.19%, to 2,076.

Volume on the

NYSE

was 1.37 billion shares, while 1.77 billion shares changed hands on the Nasdaq. Decliners beat out advancers by a 5-to-3 margin on both exchanges.

The 10-year Treasury bond was down 1/32 to yield 4.04%. Bonds rose earlier after the Commerce Department said housing starts fell 7.9% in January to an annualized rate of 1.90 million units. Economists had been forecasting a rate of 2 million. New building permits fell 2.8% to 1.89 million annualized units, also slightly weaker than expected.

The Consumer Comfort Index, published weekly by ABC News and

Money Magazine

, plunged 7 points last week, its largest fall since January 2001. The drop echoes last week's negative reading of the Consumer Sentiment Index published by the University of Michigan, which recorded an unexpected drop of 10.7 points.

Tuesday's rally came despite a weakening dollar, a trend that was letting up Wednesday. After falling to a new all-time low against the euro earlier, the dollar strengthened when French officials said Europe remains "attentive" to currencies, a sentiment that suggested to traders that central bankers are not entirely sanguine about the dollar's descent.

The euro was recently buying $1.2664 in New York, down from $1.2842 late Tuesday.

In corporate news, the five biggest specialist firms on the

New York Stock Exchange

have reportedly agreed to fork over about $240 million to settle

SEC

charges they engaged in shady practices that cost individual investors millions.

The companies are

LaBranche

(LAB)

,

FleetBoston

(FBF)

,

Bear Stearns'

(BSC)

Bear Wagner venture,

Goldman Sachs'

(GS) - Get Report

Spear Leeds, and

Van Der Moolen

(VDM)

.

Rambus

(RMBS) - Get Report

shares soared 40% on news from late Tuesday that the Federal Trade Commission dropped its antitrust suit against the computer chip designer. A U.S. court dismissed government charges that Rambus illegally monopolized key computer chip technologies. Its shares closed up 35.18%, or $9.09, to $34.93.

Clothing designer

Jones Apparel Group

(JNY)

reported a 19% drop in fourth-quarter earnings after it ended a licensing deal with

Ralph Lauren

(RL) - Get Report

. The company, whose brands include Jones New York and Nine West, said its earnings for the quarter came in at $41.8 million, or 33 cents per share, compared with $51.6 million, or 39 cents a share, a year earlier. Jones Apparel shares ended the day down 2.05%, or 76 cents, at $36.39.

Jack in the Box

(JBX)

raised its full-year profit forecast despite a decline in first-quarter earnings that the restaurant operator attributed to a charge related to refinancing its credit facility. For 2004, the company said it expects to earn $1.74 a share, excluding the refinancing charge, up from its previous estimate of $1.68. Meanwhile, including the charge, it reported first-quarter earnings of $15.6 million, or 43 cents a share, down from last year's $21.2 million, or 56 cents a share. Its shares finished up 6.11%, or $1.49, at $25.89.

Shares in Irish drugmaker

Elan

(ELN)

surged more than 20%, after the Dublin company said it was seeking early approval of its multiple sclerosis drug. Elan announced that, along with its U.S.-based partner

Biogen Idec

(BIIB) - Get Report

, it expects to ask the Food and Drug Administration to approve the drug Antegren as a treatment for multiple sclerosis by midyear. Elan's shares gained 34.09%, or $3, to $11.80 on the day, while Biogen Idec shares closed up 20.27%, or $8.97, to $53.23.

Elan had a fourth-quarter net loss after discontinued operations of $328.2 million, or 88-cent loss a share, compared with a loss of $688.5 million, or $1.97 a share, a year earlier. There were no consensus estimates from analysts available.

Overseas markets were mostly higher, with London's FTSE up 0.2% to 4469 and Germany's Xetra DAX up 0.3% to 4108. In Asia, Japan's Nikkei closed down 0.2% to 10,677, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.8% to 13,928.

On tomorrow's economic calendar, look for weekly jobless claims for the week ended Feb. 14, and reports on producer prices and the leading economic indicators in January.

On the earnings front,

Wal-Mart

(WMT) - Get Report

,

Target

(TGT) - Get Report

,

Nextel

(NXTL)

and

Hewlett-Packard

(HPQ) - Get Report

all report.