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U.S. Stocks Fall On Economic Woes; Amazon Outlook Weighs

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- U.S. stocks fell on Thursday, with a bearish outlook from online retailer weighing on the technology sector, while the market digested more cloudy forecasts from Whirlpool, Starbucks and others.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was off 22 points at 12,741, with 16 of its 30 components trading higher.

But the Dow was pressured by a 3% drop in the shares of 3M Co. , which reported a profit rise during the first quarter, along with losses in the shares of oil producers Exxon Mobil Corp. , off 2%, and Chevron Corp. , off 2.7%.

Crude oil prices fell back from record levels near $120 a barrel to below $117, as the dollar continued to firm against the euro.

General Motors Corp. posted the biggest gains among blue chips, rising 2%. The automaker's gains followed news of a surprise profit at Ford Motor Co. .

The broad S&P 500 index lost 6.7 points, or 0.5%, to 1,373, while the Nasdaq Composite fell 17 points, or 0.7%, to 2,388, weighed down by a cloudy outlook from whose shares lost over 3%.

Dollar strength

The market came under pressure from the energy sector, which fell 2%, and the materials sector, which lost 1%.

A stronger dollar brought down the price of dollar-denominated commodities, such as crude oil and gold, weighing on the shares of oil producers and metals miners. Oil futures fell $1.31 to $117 a barrel and gold futures broke back under the $900 an ounce mark.

Dollar strength was especially pronounced against the euro, which fell sharply after a closely watched German business climate poll fell more than economists had forecast.

A surprise drop in U.S. jobless claims further boosted the dollar. First-time claims for state unemployment benefits fell 33,000 to 342,000, its lowest level in two months in the latest week, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

And orders for U.S.-built durable goods fell 0.3% in March, the third decline in a row, the Commerce Department estimated. But the decline was as expected by economists following an upwardly revised 0.9% decline in February.

Meanwhile, sales of new homes plunged by 8.5% to a 17-year low in March, the Commerce Department estimated Thursday. The decline in new-home sales to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 526,000 was much weaker than the 577,000 pace expected by economists surveyed by MarketWatch.

Apple, Ford

Apple gained 0.1%. While the Macintosh and iPhone maker recorded 36% profit growth and 43% sales growth during its fiscal second quarter, its current quarter outlook was on the cautious side.

"While the conservative EPS forecast is not untypical of this management team, we are concerned that slowing first-quarter cash flow momentum could flow through into second-quarter earnings realizations," said analysts from Credit Suisse.

Ford Motor Co. returned to profitability, earning $100 million during the first quarter, and said revenue outside Jaguar Land Rover and Aston Martin climbed. Ford shares climbed 5.5% in pre-open trade.

Whirlpool dropped 8.7% after it cut its earnings outlook for the year.

Starbucks dropped 12% as the coffee retailer warned second-quarter and annual profit will be hurt by decreased traffic at U.S. stores and a weakening of the U.S. consumer environment.

Amazon fell 4% as the online retailer's flat margins offset a 30% profit rise.

"Like last quarter, revenue results and outlook are outstanding, given the recessionary environment," Mark Mahaney of Citigroup wrote in a note to clients. "Also like last quarter, the margin outlook is disappointing."

After the closing bell, Microsoft will report results.

One major M&A transaction had Wendy's and Triarc coming together in a $2.3 billion deal.

Overseas, Shanghai stocks surged 9% on the government's move to repeal a stamp duty tax. But other international markets weren'tas strong, with the FTSE 100 losing over 1% in London.

U.S. stocks ended higher on Wednesday, with better-than-forecast results from Boeing helping steer stocks up in a choppy session. The Dow industrials finished nearly 43 points higher, the S&P 500 rose almost 4 points and the Nasdaq Composite rose 28 points.

By Nick Godt

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