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Stocks drop as oil prices decline, rate worries persist

Traders work on the floor of the New

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on March 12, 2015, in New York City. Credit: Getty Images / Spencer Platt

The stock market was hit hard Friday, capping a third week of declines, as investors reacted to a steep drop in oil prices and a jump in the value of the dollar.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 145.91 points, or .82 percent, to 17,743.31. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 12.55 points, or .61 percent, to 2,053.40. The Nasdaq composite index fell 21.53 points, or 0.44 percent, to 4,871.76.

OIL MOVE: Oil dropped sharply after the International Energy Agency said prices had further to fall because supplies were continuing to rise. Benchmark U.S. crude fell $2.21 to close at $44.84 a barrel in New York. Oil is now within 40 cents of its low for the year, and its lowest level in six years, after a drop of 10 percent this week. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell $2.41 to close at $54.67 a barrel in London.

Several energy stocks followed the price of oil lower. Transocean, an offshore oil rig company, fell 67 cents, or 4.7 percent, to $13.60 and Denbury Resources fell 29 cents, or 3.8 percent, to $7.31.

INTEREST RATES: Stocks that pay higher dividends, such as utilities, were also big decliners Friday. The Dow Jones utility index fell 1.2 percent. That index is down nearly 8 percent so far this year.

A growing number of investors believe the Federal Reserve will raise its benchmark interest rate as early as June. Higher rates are typically bad for high-dividend stocks because it diminishes their appeal to investors seeking income. The Fed meets next week to discuss monetary policy.

DOLLAR RALLY HITS COMPANIES: The U.S. dollar continued its advance against other major currencies. The euro declined 1.3 percent to $1.0484. The U.S. dollar index, which measures the dollar against a basket of other currencies, was up 0.8 percent Friday and up 6.4 percent in the past month.

A higher dollar makes U.S. exports more expensive abroad. Material stocks, like steelmakers, and U.S. companies that make expensive exports such as General Electric, Caterpillar and Deere were also among the biggest decliners.

END OF A YO-YO WEEK: The week started with growing anxiety over when the Fed will start raising rates following a run of upbeat U.S. economic data, including February's nonfarm payrolls report. However, soft retail figures for January, released Thursday, have tempered those expectations. A report on producer prices, a measure of inflation, released Friday showed inflation remains under control. The three major U.S. stock market indexes are down slightly for the week.

ANALYST'S TAKE: "Coming as it did on the back of two previously disappointing months, the weak (retail sales) number has once again seeded doubts about how the Federal Reserve might react next week," said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets.

BONDS: Bond prices rose slightly. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.10 percent from 2.12 percent.


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