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US stocks post 4th straight week of losses

WITH little upbeat news ahead of a crush of corporate earnings reports next week, stocks yesterday hit their longest losing streak since the market's spring rally began in early March.

Unrelenting worries over the economy, driven by poor reports on unemployment, consumer confidence and falling commodity prices, have kept investors largely out of stocks since mid-June.

"Nobody's investing because there's no reason to invest," said Dawn Bennett, CEO of Bennett Financial Group.

Stocks zigzagged during the week, failing to hold what few gains they could muster. The Dow Jones industrials and the Standard & Poor's 500 index have now fallen four straight weeks.

Investors are on edge as the second-quarter earnings season heats up. Aluminum maker Alcoa Inc. unofficially kicked off the period with better-than-expected results on Wednesday, but a warning from Chevron Corp. late Thursday put investors back on the defensive. Alcoa and Chevron are among the 30 stocks that make up the Dow.

The pace of reports picks up speed next week with results coming in from heavy hitters such as Johnson & Johnson, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Google Inc. and General Electric Co.

Investors are looking to the reports, and especially the forecast companies give on the remainder of the year, for insight into where the economy is headed. Expectations are generally low as investors worry that they were too quick to expect a rebound in the economy when they began bidding stocks sharply higher in March. With little to fuel more gains, the rally has fizzled.

The Dow fell 36.65, or 0.5 percent, to 8,146.52. It was the lowest close for the blue chips since April 28.

The broader S&P 500 index lost 3.55, or 0.4 percent, to 879.13, while the Nasdaq composite index rose 3.48, or 0.2 percent, to 1,756.03. A handful of upgrades to technology shares helped shore up the Nasdaq.

For the week, the Dow lost 1.6 percent, the S&P 500 index slid 1.9 percent and the Nasdaq lost 2.3 percent.

Oil producers fell sharply Friday after Chevron said its refining margins fell in the second quarter and will send its results for the period much lower compared with last year.

In another blow to energy stocks, the price of crude oil resumed its descent Friday following a slight pop on Thursday, which had broken six straight days of losses. Investors see the plunge in oil prices as a weak indicator for the economy, which won't be as hungry for energy as long as the recession lingers.

A barrel of crude fell 52 cents to settle at US$59.89 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil has fallen sharply since hitting an eight-month high of US$73 early last week.

Chevron shares fell US$1.68, or 2.7 percent, to US$61.40, while Exxon Mobil Corp. fell 85 cents, or 1.3 percent, to US$65.12.

Investors have sent major indexes down about 7 percent since mid-June on the belief that a 40 percent run-up in stocks this spring was overdone considering the problems that still plague the economy such as rising unemployment.

"Job insecurity is crushing confidence in consumer spending," said John Skjervem, chief investment officer for Northern Trust's Personal Financial Services. "There is not a lot of good news to hang on to."

The market did get one piece of decent news on the economic front Friday as the Commerce Department said the U.S. trade deficit narrowed to US$26 billion in May, the lowest level in more than nine years.

Small gains in technology shares buffered the market's losses. Some technology companies moved higher after Goldman Sachs upgraded its view on both hardware and software providers, noting signs of stabilization in the industry.

Citrix Systems Inc. gained 78 cents, or 2.5 percent, to US$32.20. Yahoo Inc. shares rose more than 2 percent, adding 38 cents to US$14.93, after an upgrade from Thomas Weisel.

Bond prices rose, sending their yields lower. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, a widely used benchmark for consumer loans such as mortgages, fell to 3.30 percent from 3.41 percent late Thursday.

In other trading, the Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 1.71, or 0.4 percent, to 480.98.

Declining stocks narrowly outpaced those that rose on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to a light 922.1 million shares compared with 1 billion shares Thursday.


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