Stocks stumble towards end of solid 3Q

Stocks fell Friday in all industry groups in the S&P 500 except utilities. The biggest losses were in telecommunications and information technology stocks. But the big indices are still up 4 percent or more for three months.

Richard Drew/AP/File
In this September 2012, file photo, traders check the prices to begin trading on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Stocks fell Friday after news that U.S. consumers spent more last month only because higher gas prices forced them to.

U.S. stocks posted solid gains for the third quarter, although the ride got bumpy at the end.

Stocks fell five days of the last six, including on Friday, the last trading day of the quarter. But the big indices are still up 4 percent or more for three months. They're ahead 10 percent or more for the year.

That's despite all the anxiety about the euro, Iran, and U.S. politics.

Actually, those worries are exactly why stocks are up, said Uri Landesman, who runs the Platinum Partners hedge fund. He notes that investors around the world feel that U.S. stocks look pretty good, compared to some of the alternatives.

"People are scared, and 2008 wasn't that long ago, and Europe remains a problem," he said. Those factors "are keeping the market up in the face of some really questionable economic data and questionable behavior by the Fed."

Investors got some more of that iffy economic data on Friday. The Commerce Department said consumer spending rose a half-percent last month, compared to July. That was a big jump — but it was driven by higher has prices, rather than by spending on clothing, electronics and general merchandise. Consumer spending drives nearly 70 percent of economic activity.

The news pushed stocks lower. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 48.84 points to close at 13,437.13. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 6.48 points to 1,440.67. The Nasdaq composite index fell 20.37 points to 3,116.23. The losses had been steeper in the morning before stocks recovered somewhat around midday.

Stocks fell in all industry groups in the S&P 500 except utilities. Telecommunications and information technology stocks had the biggest losses.

Many investors worry that the recent gains by stocks aren't justified, considering the risks of a confrontation with Iran, weak corporate profits, and Europe's troubles.

"People are wrestling with that disconnect, and trying to choose which chess pieces to move in anticipation" of whatever they think will happen next, said Lawrence Creatura, portfolio manager at Federated Investors.

"It's been a good quarter," he said, "but at least for the day we seem to be limping across the finish line."

Investors are still concerned about Spain's financial health. The Bank of Spain released an audit Friday showing that seven of the country's banks failed stress tests. Moody's, the credit rating agency, is also expected to weigh in on Spain's creditworthiness, and there are concerns the government's rating will be cut to "junk" status.

Stocks in Europe fell. The CAC 40 in France fell 2.5 percent, the FTSE 100 in Britain was down 0.6 percent, and Germany's DAX fell 1 percent.

Stocks finished higher in Asia on continued speculation that China's central bank will act soon to help the world's No. 2 economy.

For the year so far, the Dow is up 10 percent, the S&P 500 up almost 15 percent, and the Nasdaq is up 20 percent.

Among U.S. stocks with noteworthy moves:

Bank of America Corp. fell 14 cents, or 1.6 percent, to close at $8.83 after agreeing to pay $2.43 billion to settle a class-action lawsuit related to its acquisition of Merrill Lynch. The company was the best performer of the 30 stocks in the Dow during September, rising 10.5 percent. Home Depot was the best Dow stock for the third quarter.

— Blackberry maker Research in Motion Ltd. jumped 36 cents, or 5 percent, to $7.50 after reporting a smaller-than-expected quarterly loss on Thursday night.

— Shoemaker Nike fell $1.09, or 1.1 percent, to $94.91 after saying its first-quarter net income fell 12 percent because higher sales were offset by increased ad spending. The results were better than Wall Street had expected, but investors seemed more worried about the trail ahead for Nike rather than its performance in the last quarter.

McDonald's Corp. fell $1.52, or 1.6 percent, to $91.75 after Janney Capital Markets cut its rating and price target, saying difficult year-ago comparisons may pressure sales at stores open at least 13 months, which is a key revenue metric for retailers.

The yield on U.S. 10-year Treasury notes fell to 1.629 percent.

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