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Stocks Slip After Weaker Growth        02/27 16:41

   February proved to be a strong month for U.S. stocks, even though it ended 
in downbeat fashion.

   (AP) -- February proved to be a strong month for U.S. stocks, even though it 
ended in downbeat fashion.

   Major stock indexes closed lower on Friday, capping a week of subdued 
trading that still delivered a couple of new highs for the Dow Jones industrial 
average and Standard & Poor's 500 index. It also brought the Nasdaq composite 
within striking distance of its March 2000 high.

   The Nasdaq notched the biggest monthly gain at 7.1 percent. But the S&P 
500's 5.5 percent performance marked its best monthly increase since October 
2011, and a turnaround from its 3.1 percent slide in January. The Dow rose 5.6 
percent for the month.

   Trading was listless for much of Friday as investors balanced encouraging 
reports on housing and consumer confidence against data showing that the U.S. 
economy grew at a slower annual rate in the final months of 2014 than 
previously estimated. Oil rose, recouping some of its losses from a day 
earlier. Technology stocks were among the biggest decliners.

   "Many people are trying to figure out what to do, taking some profits when 
they can. We saw that over the past couple of days with tech stocks," said JJ 
Kinahan, TD Ameritrade's chief strategist. "It's a wait-and-see attitude."

   The Dow ended down 81.72 points, or 0.5 percent, to 18,132.70. That's 0.5 
percent below its most-recent high of 18,224.57 on Wednesday.

   The S&P 500 slid 6.24 points, or 0.3 percent, to 2,104.50. The index is down 
0.5 from a high of 2,115.48 on Tuesday.

   The Nasdaq fell 24.36 points, or 0.5 percent, to 4,963.53. The index has 
been inching closer to crossing the 5,000-point mark, something it hasn't done 
since March 2000 at the height of the dot-com era. It's now within 86 points of 
that peak.

   The three main U.S. stock indexes are all up for the year.

   The current bull market, now in its sixth year, has been powered by strong 
corporate earnings growth and low interest rates, which make stocks more 
attractive relative to bonds. Strong job growth and improving consumer 
confidence have also encouraged traders, despite signs of sluggishness in 
Europe and elsewhere.

   Some of that confidence appeared shaken on Friday, when the Commerce 
Department reported that the U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 2.2 percent 
in the October-December quarter, weaker than the 2.6 percent estimate last 
month. The latest growth projection represents a major slowdown from the 
previous quarter, which produced the strongest growth in 11 years.

   Other economic bellwethers were more upbeat: An index of pending home sales, 
an indicator of potentially completed sales, rose in January and the December 
figure was revised higher to show a smaller decline. Separately, the University 
of Michigan's index of consumer sentiment slipped this month. It remains at the 
highest level in eight years.

   "The market does not have a clear catalyst to either cause it to sell off or 
to surge forward, and we're getting a little expensive from a valuation 
perspective," said David Heidel, regional investment director at U.S. Bank 
Wealth Management.

   Investors should get a better sense of the economy and consumers' 
willingness to spend next week, when automakers report their February sales 
figures and the government issues its monthly update on hiring.

   All told, eight of the 10 sectors in the S&P 500 ended lower, with 
technology stocks notching the biggest decline. The sector is up 4.2 percent 
this year. Consumer staples rose the most. Those stocks are up 2.9 percent this 

   Several energy companies were among the biggest decliners in the S&P 500.

   Southwestern Energy fell $1.27, or 4.8 percent, to $25.08, while NRG Energy 
lost 79 cents, or 3.2 percent, to $23.98. Chesapeake Energy slid 52 cents, or 3 
percent, to $16.68.

   Benchmark U.S. crude rose $1.59 to $49.76 a barrel on the New York 
Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude rose $2.53 to $62.58 a barrel in London.

   U.S. oil prices appeared to stabilize in February around the $50 a barrel 
mark. That's made a key variable of business more predictable for investors, 
Kinahan said.

   "That's really the kind of thing that gives stability to the stock market," 
Kinahan said.

   U.S. government bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note 
slipped to 1.99 percent from 2.03 percent late Thursday.

   In metals trading, gold edged up $3 to $1,213.10 an ounce, silver fell seven 
cents to $16.51 an ounce and copper was flat at $2.72 a pound.

   In other energy futures trading, wholesale gasoline rose 6 cents to $1.768 a 
gallon, heating oil jumped 16.3 cents to $2.30 a gallon and natural gas rose 
3.7 cents to $2.734 per 1,000 cubic feet.


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