While analysts had forecast retail sales to remain the same as the previous month, a report from the Commerce Department showed a 0.4 percent drop for the month of March, leading to fears that the expiration of the payroll tax cuts earlier this year is finally showing its effects on consumers.
Meanwhile, the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary report on the index of consumer sentiment shows a drop to 72.3 for April, below forecasts, perhaps a result of the sequester cuts that triggered by partisan gridlock in Washington last month, as well as high gasoline prices.
The S&P 500 dropped 0.28 percent to close at 1,588.85 with notable performances coming from Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY), up 3.86 percent to $66.47, with Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. (CMG) recuperating some of Thursday’s losses on an increase of 2.70 percent to $340.27, in defiance of high-profile gourmet burrito deniers.
Hudson City Bancorp. (HCBK) dropped 5.59 percent to $8.28 along with M&T Bank who dropped 4.52 percent to $100.18 when their merger, in the works since last August, was once again put on hold pending questions over M&T’s protocol for dealing with money laundering.
Oil and Gas stocks provided substantial downward pressure, with 22 companies taking losses of greater than 2 percent on the day, led by Newfield Exploration (NFX), FMC Technologies (FTI), Pioneer Natural Resources (PXD), Noble Energy (NBL), and Marathon Oil (MRO).
The Dow remained flat at 14,865.06, with Home Depot leading gainers on an increase of 2.39 percent to $73.62 after the company’s stock was upgraded from hold to buy by Jeffries. McDonald’s Corp followed, up 1.62 percent to $103.64 after the company announced that former executive Steve Eaterbrook was selected to be the new executive vice president and global chief brand officer.
Tech stocks continued to weigh the Dow, with IBM (IBM) in the lead, down 0.90 percent to $211.01, followed by Cisco Systems (CSCO) down 0.76 percent to $21.52, and Intel Corp (INTC) down 0.73 percent to $21.67.
Exxon Mobil (XOM) dipped 0.27 percent to $88.98 as reports surfaced earlier in the morning that the recent oil-spill in Arkansas was far larger and more severe than had been initially reported. JP Morgan Chase (JPM) shed 0.61 percent to $49.01.
The Nasdaq, meanwhile, lost 0.16 percent to close at 3,294.95, with home improvement retailer Orchard Supply Hardware (OSH) taking the biggest percentage loss, 45.96 percent to close at $2.14 on news that the company has hired restructuring lawyers in its ongoing talks with lenders.
Smaller telecom stocks such as Shenandoah Communications (SHEN), magicJack VocalTec Ltd. (CALL), and Consolidated Communications Holdings (CNSL), and seven others were up on the day, as the Justice Department pressed the Federal Communications Commission to take smaller companies into consideration in next year’s action of the low-frequency spectrum currently dominated by AT&T (T) and Verizon Wireless (VZ).
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