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Stocks move lower on economic reports

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NEW YORK — Wall Street stumbled through a listless session today, closing modestly lower as reports on industrial production and business inventories failed to satisfy investors who had bet on a quick economic rebound.

Stock struggled to advance on the reports, which showed gradual economic improvement.

"The news is mixed. It appears on balance things are getting better, but you're not getting every indicator that things are positive," said Robert Streed, portfolio manager of Northern Trust Select Equity Fund in Chicago.

"I think what investors need to hear from companies — but probably won't hear until they report earnings — is that companies are standing up and saying things are better," he said. "You'll need to hear good news for the market to continue higher from here."

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 22.74, or 0.2 percent, at 9,448.81, having declined 0.3 percent last week to end a five-week winning streak.

The broader market also finished lower. The Nasdaq composite index declined 9.33, or 0.5 percent, to 1,845.70. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 3.82, or 0.4 percent, to 1,014.81.

The Federal Reserve reported today that industrial production rose by 0.1 percent in August. That came after a revised 0.7 percent advance in July; however, analysts expected a gain of 0.3 percent.

Meanwhile, the Commerce Department said business inventories edged lower by 0.1 percent in July, a reading that suggested companies were still wary of increasing supplies. The reading was in line with expectations.

Stocks have lurched mostly lower in recent days as investors, having sent the market rallying since mid-March, began scrutinizing earnings outlooks for strong evidence the economy is rebounding.

"The market is struggling between investors wanting to take stocks higher, but others being cautious," said Steve Kolano, an equity trader at The Boston Company Asset Management. "People are happy with the current (stock) valuations and want to wait and see until we get into third-quarter earnings."

"At the same time, we had good economic data, interest rates are still low, ... so people aren't necessarily ready to sell off either," he said.

Motorola Inc. dropped 14 cents to $10.70 after SoundView Technology Group lowered the cell phone maker's stock rating to "neutral" from "outperform," citing stiffer competition.

Insurance companies also fell as Hurricane Isabel approached the East Coast, stirring fears of huge property damage. American International Group Inc. dropped $1.20 to $58.85, while Chubb Corp. fell 60 cents to $64.25.

Gainers included home-improvement retailers Home Depot Inc., which rose $1.19 to $32.78, and Lowe's Cos., which advanced $1.25 to $52.70, as consumers stocked up on supplies to prepare for the storm.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers 5 to 4 on the New York Stock Exchange. Volume was light.

The Russell 2000 index, which tracks smaller company stocks, fell 1.42, or 0.3 percent, to 507.64.

In Europe, France's CAC-40 advanced 0.5 percent, Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.6 percent and Germany's DAX index gained 0.2 percent. Japan's financial markets were closed today for Respect for the Aged Day, a national holiday.

On the Net:

New York Stock Exchange: www.nyse.com

Nasdaq Stock Market: www.nasdaq.com