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Stocks edge lower again, but wrap up best week of the year

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks inched lower Friday as the price of oil slipped and investors worried again about the health of the global economy. Chemicals companies fell the most. Despite the loss, the market still had its best week of the year. Stocks declined as the price of oil slipped 4...

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks inched lower Friday as the price of oil slipped and investors worried again about the health of the global economy. Chemicals companies fell the most. Despite the loss, the market still had its best week of the year.

Stocks declined as the price of oil slipped 4 percent, giving back some of its gains from the last week, and agricultural equipment giant Deere cut its sales projections. That helped touch off a wider slump that hurt chemicals, materials and mining companies. Consumer stocks like home improvement retailers and travel companies rose after the government said consumer prices are rising, a sign the U.S. economy is in good shape.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 21.44 points, or 0.1 percent, to 16,391.99. The Standard & Poor's 500 index dipped 0.05 points to 1,917.78. The Nasdaq composite index rose 16.89 points, or 0.4 percent, to 4,504.43.

Stocks made big gains Tuesday and Wednesday. Then the rally stalled and indexes took small losses over the last two days. Still, the Nasdaq, which is still down 10 percent this year, logged its biggest weekly gain since July and the S&P 500 had its best week in two months.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell $1.13, or 3.7 percent, to $29.64 a barrel in New York. It climbed 17 percent over the previous week. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, slid $1.27, or 3.7 percent, to $33.01.

That sent oil and gas stocks tumbling. Southwestern Energy dropped $1.40, or 16.5 percent, to $7.09 and Murphy Oil fell $1.24, or 7.3 percent, to $15.76.

Agricultural equipment company Deere lowered its sales forecast for the year as sales of farm and construction remain weak. That canceled out first-quarter results that were better than analysts expected. Deere lost $3.33, or 4.1 percent, to $77. Elsewhere, chemicals maker LyondellBassell Industries dipped $2.06, or 2.6 percent, to $78.14 and agricultural chemicals maker Monsanto fell $1.40, or 1.6 percent, to $88.52.

The government reported that consumer goods prices are still rising, and consumer stocks traded higher. Online retailer Amazon gained $9.90, or 1.9 percent, to $534.90, while home improvement retailer Home Depot added $1.72, or 1.4 percent, to $121.69 and online travel company Priceline rose $31.79, or 2.5 percent, to $1,283.74.

The Labor Department said prices for consumer goods have risen 1.4 percent over the last year, a sign that the pace of inflation is picking up and the economy is improving. The combination of a strong dollar and cheaper oil has suppressed inflation across much of the economy, but prices of other goods have been rising.

Michael Scanlon, managing director and portfolio manager for John Hancock Asset Management, said consumers are still spending plenty of money on cars, homes and travel. He thinks that spending is going to grow.

"People feel more stable in their jobs with increasing wages (and) home prices continue to rise," he said.

Gas prices are also very low, and while consumers have mostly put their gas savings in the bank instead of spending it, Scanlon thinks that's going to change. Gas prices have stayed low for more than a year, and he thinks shoppers will start to trust that pump prices are going to stay low.

For the moment, retailers are continuing to struggle. Department store operator Nordstrom disappointed Wall Street with its holiday-season results. The company said its sales were weaker than it expected and its profits were hurt because it had to match discounts offered by competitors.

Nordstrom gave up $3.55, or 6.7 percent, to $49.17 while Macy's fell 90 cents, or 2.2 percent, to $40.23 and JC Penney lost 31 cents, or 4.1 percent, to $7.32. Retail stocks also stumbled Thursday after Wal-Mart reported weak quarterly sales and cut its forecasts for the year. Several other major retailers will report their quarterly results next week.

Department stores have struggled since they disclosed weak third-quarter results in November. Nordstrom is down 23 percent since its previous report a little more than three months ago.

Chipmaking equipment company Applied Materials climbed after it reported stronger-than-expected profit and sales. Its stock gained $1.21, or 7 percent, to $18.38. That was its biggest increase in almost two years.

Yahoo rose 62 cents, or 2 percent, to $30.04 after the Internet company said it has created a committee of independent directors and hired advisers as part of an effort to redefine itself. Big shareholders are pushing Yahoo to sell its main Internet business. The company eliminated 15 percent of its staff earlier this month.

European stocks fell as the leaders of Britain and the rest of the 28-country European Union entered a second day of talks on how to reform the country's membership in the bloc. The talks are stalled over a series of issues, including immigration rights.

Germany's DAX fell 0.8 percent, while France's CAC 40 and Britain's FTSE 100 both declined 0.4 percent. Asian stocks were mixed, as Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 lost 1.4 percent and South Korea's Kospi added 0.4 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.4 percent and the Shanghai Composite in mainland China inched down 0.1 percent.

In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline fell 1.3 cents to 95.9 cents a gallon. Heating oil lost 5.4 cents, or 5 percent, to $1.026 a gallon. Natural gas slid 4.8 cents, or 2.6 percent, to $1.804 per 1,000 cubic feet.

The price of gold increased $4.50 to $1,230.80 an ounce and silver fell 5.9 cents to $15.373 an ounce. Copper held steady at $2.068 a pound.

Bond prices ticked lower. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 1.76 percent from 1.74 percent. The euro rose to $1.1135 from $1.1094 Thursday. The dollar fell to 112.56 yen from 113.57 yen.


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