Stocks retreat before earnings season

Traders work on the floor at the New Traders work on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange in Manhattan. World stock markets headed lower Jan. 8, 2013 as investors turned cautious before U.S. earnings season kicks off this week. (Dec. 28, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

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U.S. stocks closed lower Tuesday as traders awaited the start of the corporate earnings season.

The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 55.44 points to 13,328.85. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 0.32 percent to 1,457.15.

The Nasdaq composite index fell 0.23 percent to 3,091.81.

Alcoa reported its fourth-quarter financial results after the market closed, marking the unofficial kickoff to weeks of earnings announcements from U.S. companies. The aluminum maker said its revenue results exceeded the expectations of Wall Street analysts, while per-share earnings were roughly in line with expectations. Alcoa closed unchanged at $9.10.

Alcoa is traditionally the first of the 30 companies in the Dow average to report earnings.

Market-watchers expect the quarter's results could include many surprises because of events like superstorm Sandy, the presidential election, and the narrowly avoided tax increases and spending cuts known collectively as the "fiscal cliff."

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"Earnings is going to be the big driver for the next couple of weeks," said Kim Caughey Forrest, vice president and senior analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group, an investment management firm. -- AP

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