US stocks declined on Thursday, taking a step back from their recent advance, prompted by comments by the ECB president on the euro and Europe's outlook.
The euro currency dropped against the dollar and yen, spurring a retreat from risky assets such as stocks, after European Central Bank president Mario Draghi said the exchange rate was important to growth and price stability. Investors took that as a sign the bank is concerned about the euro's advance and its effect on the region's economy.
Growth sectors were among the weakest performers on the S&P 500: the S&P 500 materials index was down 0.6 per cent while the S&P energy index was down 0.5 per cent. Housing stocks also declined, with a housing sector index off 1.4 per cent.
Despite the day's decline and weakness earlier this week, the stock market has been in an almost uninterrupted up trend for most of the year, with the S&P 500 up 5.8 per cent so far for 2013.
Many analysts say some weakness at this point is no surprise.
"Given the amount the market moved in January, having a little bit of a pullback and some consolidation where the market goes sideways for a little while, we think would be a healthy sign," said Eric Marshall, director of research at Hodges Capital Management in Dallas.
Top US retailers reported strong January sales after offering compelling merchandise that drew in shoppers facing a hit to their take-home pay from higher payroll taxes. But an index of retailers was down 0.3 per cent.
The Dow Jones industrial average was down 42.47 points, or 0.30 per cent, at 13,944.05. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was down 2.73 points, or 0.18 per cent, at 1509.39. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 3.34 points, or 0.11 per cent, at 3165.13.
Shares of Apple helped to limit losses on the Nasdaq, the stock ending up 3 per cent at $468.22. Fund manager David Einhorn's Greenlight Capital said it has sued Apple and said the company needs to do more to unlock value for shareholders.
Though the earnings season is winding down, results continue to boost growth estimates for the fourth quarter. According to Thomson Reuters data through Thursday morning, of 317 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings, 69 per cent have exceeded analysts' expectations, above a 62 per cent average since 1994 and 65 per cent over the past four quarters.
Fourth-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies rose 5 per cent, according to the data, above a 1.9 per cent forecast at the start of the earnings season.
Akamai Technologies lost 15.2 per cent to $35.26 as the worst percentage performer on the S&P 500 after the Internet content delivery company forecast current-quarter revenue below analysts' expectations.
Among retailers, Macy's Inc rose 2 per cent to $40.27 after reporting January same store sales rose 11.7 per cent.
But Ann Inc dropped 8 p r cent to $30.20 after forecasting fourth-quarter sales below analysts' expectations.
Economic data was mixed. Initial jobless claims dipped last week, with the four-week moving average falling to its lowest level since March 2008, signalling the economy continues to recover slowly.
A separate report said fourth-quarter productivity registered its biggest drop in nearly two years, while unit labour costs jumped 4.5 per cent, more than economists expected.
Roughly 6.6 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and the NYSE MKT, compared with the 2012 average daily closing volume of about 6.45 billion.
Decliners outpaced advancers on the NYSE by nearly 4 to 3 and on the Nasdaq by about 5 to 3.
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