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Stocks listless on consumer news

Associated Press

Wall Street closed lower in profit-taking Tuesday after the previous session’s big gain, though the market held on reasonably well despite a surprising drop in consumer confidence and a disappointing forecast from Texas Instruments Inc.

The major indexes were down for much of the day, then recovered most of their losses in late trading. Still, the market’s given and take reflected the unknowns facing investors.

Wall Street remained gratified by the nomination of Bush administration economist Ben Bernanke to succeed Alan Greenspan as head of the Federal Reserve Board, but also continued to worry about inflation in the face of slow economic growth and warnings of declining fourth-quarter sales or profits from major companies like Texas Instruments.

Stocks were further pressured as the Conference Board reported that its consumer confidence index fell to 85 in October, down from 86.6 in September and less than the 88 reading economists had expected. The unexpected drop raised new concerns about consumer spending just a month before the start of the holiday shopping season.

“We’re in a market that is clearly in a little short-term decision box,” said Rod Smyth, chief investment strategist at Wachovia Securities. “It’s the debate whether core inflation remains low, which allows the Fed to stop raising rates, or whether core inflation is not able to be contained. We’ll get a progression of data and numbers that will help resolve this somewhat, but until then, we’re in the box.”

The Dow fell 7.13, or 0.07 percent, to 10,377.87, having lost more than 68 points earlier in the session. The Dow shot up 169 points on Monday.

Broader stock indicators were modestly lower. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index dropped 2.84, or 0.24 percent, to 1,196.54, and the Nasdaq composite index lost 6.38, or 0.3 percent, to 2,109.45.

Bonds added to Monday’s sharp losses, with the yield on the 10-year Treasury note rising 4.51 percent from 4.45 percent late Monday. The dollar was lower against most major currencies, while gold prices rose.

Oil prices rebounded sharply after losing ground in the previous trading session, adding to investors’ worries. A barrel of light crude settled at $62.44, up $2.12, on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In other economic news, existing home sales for September, reported by the National Association of Realtors, were steady at an annualized rate of 7.28 million homes, slightly higher than expected. However, the increase was due to higher demand for new homes among refugees from Hurricane Katrina; without that demand, sales would have fallen.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers by about 5 to 3 on the New York Stock Exchange, where preliminary consolidated volume came to 2.32 billion shares, compared with 2.19 billion traded Monday.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 3.87, or 0.6 percent, to 642.73.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average surged 1.33 percent. In Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 closed down 0.49 percent, France’s CAC-40 lost 0.56 percent for the session, and Germany’s DAX index dropped 0.59 percent.

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