Fear of slowing economy drags on stocks

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Signs of a slowing economy dragged down the stock market Wednesday. Even the prospect of continued stimulus from the Federal Reserve didn't help.

Major market indexes fell by 0.9 percent, their worst decline in two weeks. Small-company stocks fell even more, 2.5 percent, as investors shunned risk.

Stocks opened lower and kept sagging throughout the day, hurt by reports of a slowdown in hiring and manufacturing last month. Discouraging earnings news from major U.S. companies also dragged the market lower.

"Investors are going to be rattled by these numbers," said Colleen Supran, a principal at San Francisco based-Bingham, Osborn & Scarborough.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 138.85 points to 14,700.95 points. Merck, the giant drug company, had one of the biggest falls in the Dow after reporting earnings that disappointed investors. The Dow had risen for four days straight.

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The Standard & Poor's 500 index, a broader market measure, dropped 0.93 percent to 1,582.70. The Nasdaq composite index fell 0.89 percent, to 3,299.13.

The stock market was down even after the Federal Reserve stood by its easy-money policies after a two-day policy meeting.-- AP

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