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Investors are shying away from the markets as soon as they get even a whiff of trouble in the economy.at the Stocks fell Thursday after a surprise increase in new claims for jobless benefits and a weaker regional manufacturing report raised concerns about the economy.The Dow Jones industrial average fell about 50 points in afternoon trading after rising four the last five days. Broader indexes also dropped. Treasury prices rose, pushing down interest rates, after traders became more cautious.The government said that the number of people putting in new claims for unemployment benefits rose unexpectedly last week.Initial claims for jobless benefits increased 12,000 to 472,000. That's the highest level in a month and follows three straight weeks of declines. Economists had forecast another drop.A plunge in the Philadelphia Federal Reserve's index of regional manufacturing also hit stocks. The Philly Fed said manufacturing continued to expand in June but at a slower pace than in May. Its index of manufacturing activity dropped to 8 from 21.4 the month before. Traders are concerned that the slowdown signals that a recovery is fading in one of the strongest parts of the economy.The reports provided more reminders that the economy isn't bouncing back quickly."It adds up to a modest, uneven recovery," said Paul Ballew, chief economist at Nationwide Insurance in Columbus, Ohio, and a former senior economist with the Federal Reserve. "We're not expecting some light switch being turned on here." The jobs report is often the most closely watched number of the week because a recovery in the labor market is crucial to a sustained rebound in the economy. The government's most recent monthly jobs report found that employers added only 41,000 private-sector jobs in May. That was far weaker than expected and raised concerns that a pickup in hiring was slowing. The unemployment rate fell to 9.7 percent from 9.9 percent, however.A stronger euro helped contain some of the selling. The euro rose after a bond offering by Spain's government drew solid demand.Traders have been concerned that European countries like Spain with high debt loads would have trouble raising money because of worries about defaults. A stronger euro is seen as a sign of confidence in Europe's ability to cut its debt without jeopardizing an economic rebound. The euro climbed to $1.2357.In early afternoon trading, the Dow fell 48.68, or 0.5 percent, to 10,360.48. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 4.54, or 0.4 percent, to 1,110.07, and the Nasdaq composite index fell 7.25, or 0.3 percent, to 2,298.68.Bond prices rose, pushing down interest rates. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note fell to 3.20 percent from 3.27 percent late Wednesday.Crude oil fell 70 cents to $76.96 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Gold rose.Shares of BP PLC fell 20 cents to $31.65 after CEO Tony Hayward told a House panel that he was "deeply sorry" for the Gulf of Mexico rig explosion and oil spill.Hayward's appearance on Capitol Hill came a day after BP agreed to put $20 billion into a fund for victims of the spill and to suspend dividend payments for the rest of the year. BP had been scheduled to pay $2.6 billion in first-quarter dividends next week.The company's shares have lost about half their value since the rig it operated exploded in April.The government also reported that consumer prices fell for the second straight month, as expected. The Consumer Price Index dropped 0.2 percent because of a decline in the cost of gasoline and other energy expenses. However so-called core prices, which excludes often volatile food and energy costs, ticked up 0.1 percent in May. A tight job market and excess capacity at the nation's factories are some of the forces helping to keep inflation under control.About two stocks fell for every one that rose on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 494 million shares compared with 533 million shares traded at the same point Wednesday.The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 3.11, or 0.5 percent, to 663.02.
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