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Stocks lower as investors take profits

Investors locked in profits after a week of gains Friday, sending stocks lower even as oil prices fell for a fifth straight day and two big cable operators reportedly agreed to bid for bankrupt Adelphia Communications Corp.

Wall Street welcomed news that Time Warner Inc. and Comcast Corp. teamed up in an $18 billion bid for Adelphia, in which a combined Time Warner/Adelphia cable company would be spun off into a public company. A private equity firm also announced a $1 billion offer for retailer ShopKo Stores Inc., further bolstering enthusiasm over the year’s healthy merger activity.

But even as crude prices continued their decline, investors shifted their holdings and took profits ahead of first-quarter earnings announcements, which begin in earnest next week, and economic reports that could shed light on inflation.

“Why wouldn’t you take the money off the table, especially after seeing the market go down as low as it did last month?” said Brian Williamson, an equity trader at The Boston Company Asset Management. “I think some people are taking some profits, but volume is very low, and it’s very quiet, so any move we have here today you have to take with a grain of salt.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 84.98, or 0.81 percent, to 10,461.34.

Broader stock indicators also lost ground. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was down 9.94, or 0.83 percent, at 1,181.20, and the Nasdaq composite index lost 19.44, or 0.96 percent, to 1,999.35.

Despite Friday’s losses, all three indexes finished the week higher for the first time since March 4, buoyed by the largest weekly decline in oil prices since December. For the week, the Dow rose 0.55 percent, the S&P 500 climbed 0.71 percent and the Nasdaq gained 0.73 percent.

Crude oil futures dropped for a fifth straight day Friday, though investors seemed skeptical that oil futures may, at least in the short term, have hit a ceiling. A barrel of light crude settled at $53.32, down 79 cents, on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers by about 9 to 4 on the NYSE, where volume was light.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies was down 9.01, or 1.45 percent, at 610.75.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average rose 0.54 percent. In Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 closed up 0.13 percent, France’s CAC-40 was flat for the session, and Germany’s DAX index gained 0.25 percent.


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