U.S. Stocks Lag As Consumer Confidence Hits 26-year Low

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- U.S. stocks on Friday fell for the first time in three days after data showed consumer confidence at a 26-year low and reports of shots fired in the Gulf propelled oil prices higher. Meanwhile, software giant Microsoft Corp.'s profit drop weighed on technology.

"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 93.06 points, or 0.7%, to 12,755.89, with 22 of its 30 components posting losses, which were most recently led by Microsoft, off 6.6%, in the wake of its earnings report after the close on Thursday, which had the company reporting an 11% profit drop on virtually flat revenue. .

Blue-chip gains were fronted by American Express Co. , up 2.5% after the credit card giant on Thursday reported a less-than-forecast first-quarter profit drop.

The S&P 500 fell 8.36 points, or 0.6%, to 1,380.46, while the technology-laden Nasdaq Composite fell 36.45 points, or 1.5%, to 2,392.47.

Stock indexes sank after the University of Michigan/Reuters report that 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 was 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