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Mixed finish for market after weak retail sales

Specialist Anthony Matesic, right, works with traders at

Specialist Anthony Matesic, right, works with traders at his post on the floor of the NYSE on Tuesday. Photo Credit: AP / Richard Drew

U.S. stock indexes clawed most of the way back from an early slide Thursday to finish mostly lower, ending a four-day winning streak for the benchmark S&P 500 index.

Losses in banks and retailers and consumer products makers offset gains in health care stocks, technology companies and elsewhere in the market as investors weighed new data showing retail sales slumped in December amid a disappointing holiday shopping season.

The Commerce Department reported that December retail sales posted their biggest drop since September 2009. Separately, the National Retail Federation issued figures showing U.S. holiday season sales were weaker than expected.

While the discouraging retail sales data initially put investors in a selling mood, the sell-off reversed course as traders had some time to reconsider how useful the two-month old data would be in forecasting consumer spending trends in coming months.

"This was a really big shock because it was a nine-year low, in terms of its move, but the market doesn't care what happened two months ago," said Randy Frederick, vice president of trading and derivatives at Charles Schwab. "The market really wants to know what's going on today, and really, more importantly, what to look for the next month."

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 103.88 points, or 0.4 percent, to 25,439.39. Earlier, the average had been down 235 points. The S&P 500 index dropped 0.3 percent, to 2,745.73. The Nasdaq composite edged up 0.1 percent, to 7,426.95.

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