Stocks fall as oil rises, ahead of economic data

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NEW YORK -- Stocks fell Thursday, extending their decline as oil prices approached $70 a barrel and as traders awaited release of a reading on the manufacturing sector.

While a jump in Treasury yields unnerved investors and sent stocks tumbling Wednesday, oil appeared to be a larger concern Thursday as yields stabilized.

Light, sweet crude oil rose 69 cents to $69.55 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange as a general strike in Nigeria -- Africa's largest crude oil producer -- began to weigh on the market.

The Conference Board's May index of leading economic indicators failed to boost stocks Thursday; the research group predicted the U.S. economy will expand modestly in the coming months.

Wall Street was still awaiting one of the final economic readings of the week: the Philadelphia Federal Reserve's June index of regional manufacturing activity.

In midmorning trading, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 69.09, or 0.51%, to 13,420.33 after dropping 146 points Wednesday.

Broader stock indicators fell. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 5.74, or 0.38%, to 1,507.10 and the Nasdaq composite index fell 10.38, or 0.40%, to 2,589.58.

Bonds were little changed; the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note remained flat at 5.15% from late Wednesday. The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, while gold prices fell.

Other fresh economic data on hand showed the number of workers seeking jobless benefits rose by 10,000 last week to a two-month high, marking the third straight weekly gain. While the increase wasn't large, the movement could suggest unemployment isn't quite as low as it had been.

The economic readings come in an otherwise quiet week for broad news about the economy and only a handful of quarterly results from companies. Corporate earnings reports will begin flowing in earnest in several weeks and Wall Street is accustomed to receiving profit warnings around this time. Investors are hoping a parade of strong earnings might continue and provide fodder for sending stocks higher.

In corporate news, H&R Block Inc. fell 90 cents, or 4%, to $21.88 after reporting it swung to a fourth-quarter loss amid continuing troubles in its mortgage lending arm. Difficulties there outweighed higher revenue from the company's tax and financial-services businesses.

Eyewear maker Luxottica Group SpA rose $2.70, or 7.8%, to $37.54 after agreeing to acquire rival Oakley Inc. for $2.1 billion. Oakley jumped $3.24, or 12.8%, to $28.47.

Pier 1 Imports Inc., the seller of furniture and home decorating goods, fell 25 cents, or 2.9%, to $8.38 after its first-quarter loss widened as sales fell and as profit margins shrank.

Several analysts lowered their ratings on Cheesecake Factory Inc. after the restaurant chain forecast second-quarter revenue that proved weaker than Wall Street had been expecting.

Andersons Inc., an ethanol and grain producer, jumped $3.54, or 8.8%, to $43.94 after the company raised its full-year profit forecast following a strong second-quarter performance from its agricultural businesses. The company also began producing ethanol from a second plant and has seen better-than-expected margins.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers by about 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 114.6 million shares.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 6.85, or 0.82%, to 829.33.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average closed up 0.16%. Britain's FTSE 100 fell 0.95%, Germany's DAX index fell 1.77%, and France's CAC-40 lost 1.28%.
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