NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- U.S. markets stumbled in afternoon trading to close lower as traders bet that Crimea would choose to split from Ukraine.

Also influencing the cautious investor stance was a decline in producer prices and disappointing consumer confidence report on Friday.

  • The Producer Price Index for February fell 0.1%, compared to expectations of a 0.2% increase. U.S. consumer confidence dropped to a four-month low in March, suggesting household spending remained sluggish after poor weather earlier this year. The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary index of sentiment fell to 79.9 this month from 81.6 in February.
  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 0.27% to 16,065.67, while the S&P 500 lost 0.28% to 1,841.13. The Nasdaq dropped 0.35% to 4,245.40. The Dow, S&P and Nasdaq for the week tumbled 2.35%, 1.97% and 1.43%, respectively.
  • Investors were cautious heading into the weekend as the referendum in Crimea on Sunday will determine whether Crimea joins Russia and risks heightened tensions. Western leaders are declaring that the referendum is illegal and have warned Russia that it will be isolated further and be subject to possible sanctions. Russian President Vladimir Putin is reportedly preparing to invade eastern Ukraine, Estonian Defense Minister Urmas Reinsalu said in an e-mailed statement.
  • International markets were in the red on Friday amid concerns of geopolitical risk. The FTSE 100 in London closed down 0.39%, the DAX in Germany increased 0.42%, the Hong Kong Hang Seng settled behind by 1%, and the Nikkei 225 in Japan declined 3.3%.
  • Top gainers included GameStop (GME), up 5%, and Allegheny Technologies (ATI), which rose 3.2%.
  • Celgene (CELG) was the worst performer on the S&P, dropping 4.2%.
  • Aeropostale (ARO) tumbled 20.1% after posting a wider-than-expected fourth-quarter loss of 35 cents a share as revenue disappointed and same-store sales fell 15%.
  • General Mills (GIS) slid 2.4% after reporting preliminary third-quarter earnings that were below analysts' expectations.
  • General Motors (GM) was off 0.89% despite the Center for Auto Safety reporting that 303 deaths occurred after airbags failed to deploy inside vehicles included among the 1.6 million cars recalled by GM in February.

-- Written by Jane Searle, Andrea Tse and Joe Deaux in New York

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