Stocks Fall for Second Straight Day

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Major U.S. equity indices slumped for a second straight day Thursday after jobless claims rose and data on general business conditions came in soft. Stocks also suffered from Wednesday's selloff that had resulted from the Federal Reserve's release of the minutes from its January meeting.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dipped 47 points, or 0.3%, to 13,881.

Breadth within the Dow was negative, with losers outpacing winners 21 to nine. Bank of America ( BAC), Intel ( INTC) and Home Depot ( HD) led decliners on the blue-chip index.

Boeing ( BA), Wal-Mart ( WMT) and Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ) were the top gainers.

Boeing is expected to detail Friday its plan to return the grounded Dreamliner jet to service, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal. Shares added 1.7%.

Wal-Mart announced quarterly earnings from continuing operations of $1.67 a share on revenue of $127.1 billion. Analysts expected profit of $1.57 a share on revenue of $128.9 billion. Shares of the world's largest retailer tacked on 1.5%.

Hewlett-Packard reported a profit of 82 cents a share on revenue of $28.4 billion. Analysts predicted the tech company would post earnings of 71 cents a share on revenue of $27.79 billion during its fiscal first quarter. Shares increased more than 5% in after-hours trading.

Volumes were heavy on the exchanges as investors traded 4.23 billion shares on the New York Stock Exchange and 2.04 billion shares on the Nasdaq. Decliners were ahead of advancing issues by a 2.2-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and by a 2.3-to-1 ratio on the tech-heavy index.

The S&P 500 shed 10 points, or 0.6%, to 1,502. The Nasdaq fell 33 points, or 1%, to 3,131.

Shares of Apple ( AAPL) slipped 0.6% on Thursday after Greenlight Capital's David Einhorn hosted a conference call about the iPhone manufacturer's proposal to eliminate preferred stock.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Thursday that the consumer price index for January remained unchanged from the prior month's flat reading. Economists polled by Thomson Reuters were expecting inflation to rise 0.1%. The core rate, excluding food and energy, climbed 0.3%.

The Labor Department said Thursday that initial jobless claims for the week ended Feb. 16 rose 20,000 to a seasonally adjusted 362,000, up from a revised 342,000 claims the week before. Economists expected claims to rise 355,000. The four-week moving average rose to 360,750 from the previous average of 352,750.

"It's a bit of a non-event. The short-term numbers are all over the place and we still have the lingering effects of Superstorm Sandy," said Marty Leclerc, chief investment officer at Barrack Yard Advisors.

The National Association of Realtors said Thursday that existing-home sales rose to an annual rate of 4.92 million in January. A consensus of economists polled by Thomson Reuters were looking for an annual rate of 4.9 million in January. December's downwardly revised annual rate was 4.9 million.

"The most interesting thing from the existing-home sales report is that inventories are so low ... there's not as many distressed homes on the market for sale, so I think those are both good signs," said Brad Sorensen, market and sector research director at Charles Schwab. "Some people have been on the sidelines who may want to sell their house, so I think we'll start to recognize that maybe they can get more of the price they were looking for."

The Philadelphia Fed said its business index printed at minus 12.5, a sign of contraction. The survey shows general business conditions and economists were looking for a reading of about 1. January's reading came in at minus 5.8. The survey said new orders took a hit, as the number came in at minus 7.8, while the labor market showed slight improvement with a reading of 0.9.

Minutes from the Fed's policy-making wing Wednesday suggested that central bankers were becoming more open to the idea of backing away from the massive $85 billion a month in open-ended Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities purchases that the central bank has been making.

Stocks dropped Wednesday as the prospect of less monetary easing raised questions as to what a Fed exit of continued monetary stimulus may mean for equity markets.

The Fed's less-than-thrilling announcement battered global stock markets. The FTSE 100 in London closed off 1.6% on Thursday, and the DAX in Frankfurt dropped 1.9%.

Asian markets closed with deep losses on Thursday as Japan's Nikkei average fell 1.4% overnight to finish at 11,309. Hong Kong's Hang Seng tumbled 1.7% to 22,907.

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