Stocks Slide Following Weak Wage Growth, Oil Slump

NEW YORK (AP) — Major stock indexes fell sharply in afternoon trading Friday, reversing two days of gains.

         Investors were discouraged by weak U.S. wage growth in December, despite another strong increase in hiring. They also sold stocks as oil resumed its slide after a brief lull this week. Finally, investors worried that an expected plan to boost Europe's flagging economy would be too timid.


KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 12 points, or 0.6 percent, to 2,049 as of 1:20 p.m. Eastern. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 123 points, or 0.7 percent, to 17,784. The Nasdaq composite declined 22 points, or 0.5 percent, to 4,713.


ENERGY: U.S. crude fell 73 cents, or 1.5 percent, to $48.06 a barrel in New York. In London, Brent crude fell $1.19, or 2.3 percent, to $49.77 a barrel. The price of the key commodity has fallen by more than half since June as traders anticipate a glut of supply caused by increased production.


JOBS REPORT: U.S. employers added 252,000 jobs in December, slightly more than economists expected. The government said more jobs were added in October and November than it had previously estimated. The unemployment rate dropped to 5.6 percent from 5.8 percent.


VOLATILE MARKETS: After a long period of relative calm, stock markets have become more volatile as investors grapple with slowing global growth and slumping oil prices. A gauge of investor anxiety, the Chicago Board Options Exchange's volatility index, or VIX, rose 3 percent to 17.5 on Friday, up from 12 a month ago.


THE QUOTE: "It's going to be a volatile year, but I think if you remain a long-term investor … and you push out this volatility and you focus on the trends, I think (the stock market) is going to have a pretty good year," said Robert Pavlik, chief market strategist at Banyan Partners.


SECTOR WATCH: The 10 sectors in the S&P 500 fell, and energy stocks were among the biggest losers. The sector is down 3.5 percent this year compared with a decline of 0.67 percent for the broader market.


SALES MISS: Bed Bath & Beyond was among the biggest decliners in the S&P 500 after the company said late Thursday that its quarterly sales missed estimates. The company's stock slumped $5.14, or 6.5 percent, to $74.31.


ROUGH SEAS: Star Bulk Carriers sank 22.7 percent after the global shipping company priced a public offering of stock below the previous day's closing price. The stock slid $1.48 to $5.05.


UNAPPETIZING RESULTS: Ruby Tuesday's latest quarterly revenue fell short of expectations as sales at restaurants open at least a year declined. Shares in the chain-restaurant operator shed 95 cents, or 13.5 percent, to $6.15.


BIOTECH BOOST: Agenus jumped 25.8 percent on news that the biotechnology company signed a licensing, development and commercialization deal with Incyte for immuno-therapeutics. Agenus rose $1.06 to $5.17. Incyte fell $1.39, or 1.9 percent, to $71.82.


EUROPE: Markets fell in Europe. France's CAC 40 slid 1.9 percent, Germany's DAX shed 1.9 percent and Britain's FTSE 100 lost 1 percent.


BOND MARKETS: In government bond trading, prices rose. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury fell to 1.96 percent from 2.02 percent on Thursday.


CURRENCIES: The euro edged up to $1.1841 from $1.1792 the previous day. The dollar fell to 118.58 yen from 119.80 yen.

         – by AP Reporter Alex Veiga


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