Trader Michael Capolino works at New York Stock Exchange Tuesday....

Trader Michael Capolino works at New York Stock Exchange Tuesday. The markets on Thursday dropped, rose and dropped again within two hours of the opening bell. (April 17, 2012) Credit: AP

A slew of U.S. companies announced big profits Thursday, but investors spooked about the economy sold stocks anyway.

Investors shifted between buying and selling early, then stuck with selling after deciding that the strong earnings results weren't enough to make up for weak reports on jobs, housing and manufacturing.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 68.65 points to close at 12,964.10. The Standard & Poor's 500 index dropped 8.22 to close at 1,376.92. The Nasdaq composite index fell 23.89 to close at 3,007.56.

Morgan Stanley rose 2.3 percent after it beat Wall Street's earnings and revenue estimates. UnitedHealth Group Inc. rose 2.4 percent after reporting higher profits. EBay, Southwest Airlines and Bank of America also beat forecasts.

Stocks fell after an index of regional manufacturing compiled by the Philadelphia branch of the Federal Reserve dropped sharply, and the National Association of Realtors said home sales fell 2.6 percent last month.

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