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Stocks close down on weak earnings reports

Traders at the New York Stock Exchange watch

Traders at the New York Stock Exchange watch the markets swoon Wednesday, erasing gains from the day before. Stocks continued their slide Thursday. (April 17, 2013) Credit: Bloomberg News

Disappointing earnings from a range of companies pushed the stock market lower Thursday, giving major indexes their third loss this week.

The stock prices of Morgan Stanley, UnitedHealth Group and others sank after they turned in weaker quarterly results.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index closed at 1,541.61, a decline of 0.67 percent. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 81.45 points to 14,537.14. The Nasdaq composite index dropped 1.20 percent to 3,166.36.

Compared with the steep drops earlier this week, the losses Thursday looked tame. The S&P 500 lost 2 percent on Monday, its worst day of the year.

One reason behind the market's sudden turn might simply be that investors wanted to take some of their winnings off the table, said Joseph Tanious, global market strategist at J.P. Morgan Funds. At the start of April, the S&P 500 was already up 10 percent for 2013.

"For a while there, it seemed like all the headlines were 'stock market hits all-time high,' " Tanious said. "When they see things like that, investors get nervous."

The market didn't get any help from economic news Thursday. More people applied for unemployment benefits last week and manufacturing slowed in the mid-Atlantic region.

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