NEW YORK - A mostly downbeat batch of economic news gave investors a reason to cash in some of their recent gains today, leaving stock prices widely mixed. Blue chips pulled back, while tech stocks that have lagged the market were rallying.
Wall Street is coming off three sessions of gains that gave the Dow Jones industrials and the Standard & Poor's 500 index their first triple-session advances in more than two months, so some retrenchment wasn't surprising. Many traders were also selling because they are hesitant to go into the extended Thanksgiving holiday weekend with long positions.
While investors largely expected today's spate of economic readings would be weak, they appeared to look to the data as further justification to collect profits.
Among the reports, the Labor Department said initial requests for unemployment benefits fell to a seasonally adjusted 529,000 from the previous week's upwardly revised figure of 543,000. That is lower than analysts' expectations of 537,000. Still, the initial claims remain at recessionary levels.
Meanwhile, the Commerce Department said orders to U.S. factories for big-ticket manufactured goods plunged in October by the largest amount in two years as the economy weakened. The 6.2 percent drop was more than double the 3 percent decline economists expected.
It also reported that sales of new homes fell 5.3 percent in October to the lowest level in nearly 18 years. The seasonally adjusted annual sales pace of 433,000 homes was the lowest level since January 1991, when the country was facing another steep housing downturn.
Americans also cut back on their spending in October by the largest amount since the 2001 terror attacks. The Commerce Department said consumer spending plunged 1 percent last month, worse than the 0.9 percent decline that had been expected. The report also said personal incomes rose 0.3 percent last month, more than the 0.1 percent gain analysts had predicted.
In the first hour of trading, the Dow industrials fell 89.29, or 1.05 percent, 8,390.18.
Broader indicators were mixed. The S&P 500 fell 8.37, or 0.98 percent, to 849.02, while the Nasdaq composite index rose 5.02, or 0.34 percent, to 1,469.75.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 1.47, or 0.33 percent, to 441.71.
On Tuesday, stocks finished mostly higher as investors were encouraged by new government initiatives to help unfreeze the credit markets. The Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve said they planned to provide $800 billion to aid the market for consumer debt and to make mortgage loans cheaper and more available.
The Dow finished up 36 points, for a gain of more than 900 points across three sessions. The Dow last put a three-day advance together on Aug. 26-28. The S&P 500, meanwhile, had its first three-day rise since Sept. 10-12. Tech stocks lagged and sent the Nasdaq moderately lower as investors feared businesses will further cut back on technology spending.
Still, the market's performance in recent sessions has been a welcome show of stability as stocks have generally traded with less volatility than they had in the past three months as the market's yearlong pullback intensified.