"The decline [in consumer confidence] sustains the pattern of big confidence drops in all the major April measures, as soaring energy and food costs continue to capture the attention of consumers, alongside recession talk and concerns about the housing and banking sectors," said analysts at Action Economics.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 68.23 points, or 0.5%, to 12,780.72, with 18 of its 30 components posting losses, which were most recently led by Microsoft, off 6.4%, in the wake of its earnings report Thursday, which had the company reporting an 11% profit drop on virtually flat revenue. .
Blue-chip gains were fronted by American Express Co. , up 3.2% after the credit card giant on Thursday reported a less-than-forecast first-quarter profit drop.
The S&P 500 was down 2.74 points, or 0.2%, to 1,386.08, while the technology-laden Nasdaq Composite declined 30.38 points, or 1.3%, to 2,398.54.
Information led sector declines on the S&P, recently off 1.7%, followed by consumer stapes, down 0.8%. Materials led S&P sector gains, rising 1.3%, followed by energy, which gained 1.1%.
Volume on the New York Stock Exchange neared 2.2 billion, with declining stocks edging ahead of those advancing 8 to 7. On the Nasdaq, 1.1 billion shares exchanged hands, and decliners topped advancers 3 to 2.
Stock indexes sank after data from the University of Michigan/Reuters showed the U.S. consumer sentiment index fell to 62.6 in April, from 69.5 in March. .
"Consumer confidence is as bad as it's been since 1982 -- I'm losing confidence as well every time I put $90 of gas in my Jeep to get to work," said Art Hogan, chief market economist at Jefferies & Co.
But the confidence data were to be expected, with obvious reasons behind it, said Hogan. "It's just another bell to ring at the bottom," said Hogan.
In the wake of news reports that the U.S. military fired at an Iranian boat in the Gulf, crude-oil futures gained $3.17 to $119.23 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, while gold gained $5.3 to $892.1 an ounce.
Friday's more active stocks included shares of Ericsson AB , which rallied, recently up 12.6%, after the world's largest maker of mobile networks posted surprisingly strong first-quarter results. .
Baidu.com Inc. advanced 5.9% after it reported first-quarter net income soared 71%.
By Kate Gibson