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Stocks fall with bad economic, corporate reports

NEW YORK – Stocks fell sharply Friday after a series of depressing economic and corporate reports and high oil prices stoked concerns about the health of the economy. The major stock indexes fell more than 2.5 percent and the Dow Jones industrials lost 315 points.

Investors were unnerved by disappointing quarterly results from American International Group Inc. and Dell Inc. And an index of regional business activity that Wall Street regards as a good indicator of a broader report set to arrive next week had its weakest showing in more than six years.

Oil prices continued to stir concern about inflation after pushing past $103 per barrel for the first time.

While stocks made sharp gains in the first three days this week even amid somewhat lackluster economic readings, the litany of concerns investors succumbed to Friday reflected the undercurrent of uncertainty that has kept Wall Street on edge for months.

“We really had to face a plethora of negative news,” said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Jefferies & Co. in Boston. “We just ran out of gas this week.”

Hogan said while stocks held up admirably early in the week amid an uneven flow of economic news, they couldn’t hold their gains after the latest round of weak economic signals.

The Dow fell 315.79, or 2.51 percent, to 12,266.39. The decline more than erased the week’s 200 point gain and sent stocks lower for February, the fourth straight month of declines.

Broader stock indicators also tumbled. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index lost 37.05, or 2.71 percent, to 1,330.63, and the Nasdaq composite index declined 60.09, or 2.58 percent, to 2,271.48.

Bond prices rose sharply as stocks lost ground. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, fell to 3.52 percent from 3.67 percent late Thursday.

The Chicago Board Options Exchange’s volatility index, known as the VIX, and often referred to as the “fear index,” jumped 12.5 percent.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average closed down 2.32 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 closed down 1.36 percent, Germany’s DAX index fell 1.67 percent, and France’s CAC-40 fell 1.67 percent.