U.S. Stocks Drop in August

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Major U.S. stocks dropped Friday as traders hesitated to make any major moves amid the session's thin volumes heading into the long Labor Day weekend and after tepid reports on U.S. consumers.

The S&P 500 closed down 3.1% for August, the largest monthly drop since the index fell 6.3% in May 2012.

The S&P 500 lost 0.32% to close at 1,632.97. The index dropped 1.8% for the week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 0.21% to close at 14,810.31. The blue-chip index decreased 1.3% for the five-day trading period. The Nasdaq was off 0.84% to close at 3,589.87. The tech-heavy index slid 1.9% for the week.

Apple ( AAPL) shares were down 0.95% to $487.05 as the world awaited Apple's iPhone 5S, reported to come in just 12 days. With plenty of rumors and speculation being bandied about, it's important to separate the truth from the half-truth from the ridiculous, wrote TheStreet's Chris Ciaccia.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis said consumer spending for July increased by a less-than-expected 0.1%, down from an upwardly revised 0.6% in June. The personal income measure rose by a smaller-than-expected 0.1% as well, below the increase of 0.3% from the prior month. Economists, on average, were expecting personal income to rise 0.2% and personal spending to edge up 0.3%.

The final estimate on the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index came in at 82.1, the lowest level in four months in the face of rising interest rates and growing geopolitical tensions. Though the number is up from 80 in the preliminary August report, its remains below July's 85.1. Economists were expecting a print of 80.5.

Concerns about the global effect of a U.S.-led air strike against Syria appeared to have become more muted as the Obama administration looks more and more alone in its proposal to act on evidence of a Syrian government-initiated chemical weapons attack against civilians.

In a public statement Friday afternoon, Secretary of State John Kerry continued to underscore the importance of taking action to undermine dangerous regimes and disarm terrorist groups around the world to ensure global security, but emphasized that diplomacy and negotiations rather than military action would be key for any real resolution. "History will judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turn a blind eye," he said. Any type of military action against Syria would be a limited, tailored response, Kerry added.

Still, he revealed some lack of support in the global community for a U.S.-led military intervention in Syria, saying that the "U.N. cannot galvanize world to act as it should," as the Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon asserted that the organization would not confirm who has been using the chemical weapons in Syria. The organization will only affirm that such weapons were used. On Thursday, British lawmakers voted down British participation in a military intervention; the U.S. had been counting on the U.K. to be a key ally for this initiative.

Despite the broader market declines, certain individual stocks were grabbing the spotlight. Salesforce.com ( CRM) on Friday was the biggest gainer in the S&P 500, popping 12.6% to $49.13 after the cloud-based customer relationship software giant succeeded in impressing Wall Street on both its forecast and second-quarter results Thursday.

Apache ( APA) was the next biggest gaining stock as shares surged 9% to $85.68. The company said Friday it would sell a 33% stake in its Egypt operation to China's Sinopec for $3.1 billion. Apache said the sale is a first step in forming a global partnership to pursue oil and gas projects.

The Chicago Purchasing Managers Index reflecting business conditions in the Chicago area increased to 53 in August, as expected by economists, from 52.3 in July.

Friday marks the last trading session of the month. Major U.S. stock indices logged their worst one-month in more than a year, weighed down by concerns about potential Federal Reserve tapering of bond purchases in September, the U.S. fiscal budget negotiations coming up in the fall, and worries about any devastating global impact that could arise from an attack on Syria.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury was down 4/32, pushing the yield to 2.779%.

-- Written by Andrea Tse and Joe Deaux in New York

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