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Late-day slide hits stocks ahead of jobs report

A LATE-DAY slide pulled stocks lower ahead of the government's report on November unemployment.

Stocks began falling in the final half-hour of trading yesterday and the drop intensified in the last 20 minutes. The Labor Department's November unemployment report is due before the start of trading Friday.

Worries about the economy had been dogging investors following a weak snapshot of the service industry early yesterday. The Institute for Supply Management said its index of activity in the service industry fell to 48.7 in November from 50.6 in October. That was below what analysts had been expecting and signaled contraction.

The market drew some support from a Labor Department report that new claims for unemployment benefits fell unexpectedly for the fifth straight week.

The number of laid-off workers seeking unemployment benefits fell by 5,000 last week to 457,000, in a hopeful sign of improvement in the job market. Economists had expected an increase, according to a survey by Thomson Reuters.

Meanwhile, the technology-heavy Nasdaq composite index saw more modest losses after Comcast Corp. said it agreed to buy a majority stake in NBC Universal for US$13.75 billion. The long-awaited deal gives the nation's largest cable TV operator control of the TV network as well as several cable channels and a major movie studio.

The stock market's drop followed steep gains early in the week and mixed trading Tuesday. A surge in stocks has lasted nearly nine months and some analysts worry that the market's advance is outpacing gains in the economy.

According to preliminary calculations, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 86.53, or 0.8 percent, to 10,366.15. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 9.32, or 0.8 percent, to 1,099.92, while the Nasdaq composite index fell 11.89, or 0.5 percent, to 2,173.14.


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