Stocks drop as quarterly reports examined

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NEW YORK -- Wall Street pulled back Tuesday as investors appeared largely unimpressed by a rush of quarterly results from bellwethers like AT&T Corp., DuPont and McDonald's Corp. Oil prices also touched fresh highs, raising some concerns about inflation.

AT&T's earnings met Wall Street's forecast while McDonald's and DuPont reported stronger-than-expected numbers. But DuPont said a U.S. slowdown will offset growth abroad and McDonald's said an important metric of its sales showed a decline for March. All three companies are among the 30 stocks that make up the Dow Jones industrial average.

The comments kept some investors in a cautious posture. With hundreds of companies still to report results, investors are anxious over what the figures might say about the prospects for the economy.

As occurs with each earnings rush, investors are combing reports for insights into the health of the economy and the prospects for profits in the coming quarters. The shifts in market sentiment with each successive wave of reports, which is also typical of an earnings period, is perhaps a welcome dynamic following months of often disconcerting volatility.

Investors appeared little moved by news of continued weakness in the housing sector. Sales of existing homes fell 2% in March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.93 million units, while the median sales price dropped for a seventh straight month. The National Association of Realtors also said sales rose in the Northeast and West but fell in the Midwest and South.

In midmorning trading, the Dow fell 89.00, or 0.69%, to 12,736.02.

Broader stock indicators also declined. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 10.48, or 0.75%, to 1,377.69, and the Nasdaq composite index fell 21.21, or 0.88%, to 2,386.83.

Bond prices fell. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 3.74% from 3.73% late Monday. The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, while gold prices rose.

Oil prices advanced Tuesday above $118 per barrel for the first time following concerns over supplies from some important producers. Light, sweet crude rose 74 cents to $118.22 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Oil's seemingly relentless march higher this year raises the specter of higher inflation that would lead consumers to cut back their discretionary spending. It would also make the Federal Reserve less likely to keep lowering interest rates.

Investors were digesting a flurry of quarterly results and some appeared to confirm concerns about the economy.

Late Monday, Texas Instruments Inc. warned of a weak market for the chips it makes for high-end mobile phones. The company's results were nearly in line with Wall Street's expectations, however. The stock fell $1.52, or 5%, to $29.07.

In other corporate news, CIT Group Inc. fell $1.80, or 14%, to $10.94 after the financial services company said it would raise $1.5 billion from an offering of common and preferred stock. The company has been hit by strains in the mortgage and credit markets.

AT&T rose 21 cents to $37.80 after reporting that its first-quarter earnings rose 22% following growth in the company's wireless division and as its enterprise services business saw a reversal of an earlier decline.

DuPont said profits jumped 26% as the chemical company saw higher sales and benefits from the weak dollar. But the company's comments about the U.S. market appeared to weigh on the stock, which fell $2.11, or 4%, to $50.14.

McDonald's Corp. slipped 20 cents to $58.47 after saying its first-quarter earnings grew 24%. The fast food chain benefited from the weak U.S. dollar and strong global sales. However, it also said its same-stores sales, or sales at restaurants open at least a year, declined in March.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers by about 3 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 284.5 million shares.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 10.50, or 1.46%, to 707.50.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average closed down 1.09%. In afternoon trading, Britain's FTSE 100 fell 0.21%, Germany's DAX index fell 0.27%, and France's CAC-40 lost 0.30%.
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