US stocks sinking market heads for second loss; Alcoa falls most in S&P 500 index

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NEW YORK — U.S. stocks sank Wednesday, pulling indexes further below record highs. The drop was modest but broad: nine of the 10 sectors in the Standard & Poor's 500 index lost ground.

KEEPING SCORE: As of 12:07 p.m. Eastern time, the S&P 500 was down 11 points, or 0.5 percent, to 2,097. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 108 points, or 0.6 percent, to 18,096, and the Nasdaq composite fell 18 points, or 0.4 percent, to 4,962.

TAKING A BREATHER: Given the market's recent run, it's only natural for investors to turn cautious, said Terry Sandven, senior equity strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. On Monday, the S&P 500 reached an all-time high while the Nasdaq crossed the 5,000 mark for the first time in nearly 15 years.

"We're in wait-and-see mode," Sandven said. "Prices are definitely stretched, especially when earnings expectations are being set lower."

MELTING, MELTING: Alcoa's stock sank 5 percent, the biggest drop in the S&P 500, following news that analysts at Bank of America cut their ratings on the aluminum giant. BofA's analysts expect prices for aluminum to lose strength as China increases its exports. Alcoa lost 75 cents to $14.43.

JOBS: A survey showed U.S. businesses added more than 200,000 people to their payrolls in February, the latest sign that strong hiring should boost the economy this year. ADP, a company which handles payrolls, said private employers hired 212,000 workers last month. The survey comes just ahead of the government's release of its monthly employment report on Friday. Economists forecast that the economy added 240,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate slipped to 5.6 percent from 5.7 percent.

ANALYST'S TAKE: The U.S. economy appears steady despite reports out earlier this week showing declines in construction spending and car sales, according to Jim O'Sullivan of High-Frequency Economics. "We expect another fairly strong rise in payrolls and a drop in the unemployment rate in the February employment report on Friday," said O'Sullivan, in a report to clients.

EUROPE: France's CAC-40 index and Germany's DAX gained 1 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 picked up 0.4 percent.

EUROZONE MOMENTUM: Two reports showed hints of life in Europe's economy. Retail sales increased by 1.1 percent in January, the first time since records began in 2000 that they've grown for four consecutive months. Meanwhile, a key gauge of business activity showed growth in February across all four of the region's biggest economies: Germany, France, Italy and Spain.

ASIA'S DAY: In Japan, the Nikkei 225 lost 0.6 percent. In China, Hong Kong's Hang Seng declined 1 percent, and the Shanghai Composite Index added 0.5 percent. India's Sensex gained 0.8 percent to after the central bank unexpectedly cut its benchmark lending rate.

TWEENS: In other trading, Abercrombie & Fitch posted quarterly profit that beat analysts' estimates but its sales fell short. A top executive at the retailer warned that it will likely face trouble from a stronger dollar. Abercrombie's stock plunged $3.15, or 13 percent, to $20.82.

CRUDE: Benchmark U.S. crude slipped 81 cents to $49.71 a barrel in New York trading.

CURRENCIES, BONDS: The dollar was little changed at 119.60 yen from 119.66 yen the day before. The euro fell to $1.1077 from $1.1180. In the market for U.S. government bonds, the yield on the 10-year Treasury note held steady at 2.12 percent.

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