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US STOCKS-Wall St down after weak data but S&P 500 still near record

Source : REUTERS
Last Updated: Wed, Apr 03, 2013 17:10 hrs

* ADP employment report comes in below expectations

* Zynga to offer casino games in Britain, stock rallies

* Indexes down: Dow 0.5 pct, S&P 0.8 pct, Nasdaq 0.8 pct

By Angela Moon

NEW YORK, April 3 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks declined on Wednesday after disappointing economic data, but the S&P 500 index hung near an all-time intraday high.

Disappointment came from a jobs report that showed less-than-expected hiring in the private sector in March, while a services sector index also came in below expectations.

Investors expect market movements to be slight before Friday's release of the broader U.S. non-farm payrolls report for March from the Labor Department.

Momentum for the market to move higher remains, strategists say. The S&P has been near an intraday record level of 1,576.09 for the past several sessions, inching to within three points on Tuesday before pulling back. The index still ended at a new closing high on Tuesday.

"Investors now appear to be focused on the potential for continuing global economic growth in the year ahead," said Stuart T. Freeman, chief equity strategist at Wells Fargo Advisors. The firm raised its year-end S&P 500 target range to 1,575-1,625 from an initial target of 1,525-1,575.

The S&P 500 has advanced more than 10 percent this year and last week broke above its 2007 closing high. The Dow broke above its 2007 record on March 5.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 70.27 points, or 0.48 percent, at 14,591.74. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was down 12.32 points, or 0.78 percent, at 1,557.93. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 25.76 points, or 0.79 percent, at 3,229.11.

In economic news, the ADP National Employment Report showed U.S. companies hired at the slowest pace in five months, far below what economists had expected, though the February report was revised upward.

"One potential cloud on the horizon is that no construction jobs were created in March. We think this is a little unusual, especially given the time of year ahead of the onset of the key spring selling season," said Andrew Wilkinson, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak & Co in New York.

"The lack of employment gains begs the question as to whether construction gains are purely related to rebuilding in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy. We doubt it, but it now has one thinking about that notion in advance of the non-farm payroll reading."

The Institute for Supply Management's March services sector index also came in below expectations, with the pace of growth at the lowest level in seven months.

Among stocks on the move, Zynga Inc surged nearly 15 percent to $3.52 after the company said it would begin offering poker and casino-style games in Britain in partnership with Bwin.party Digital Entertainment.

ConAgra Foods Inc fell 0.8 percent to $35.23 after reporting third-quarter earnings that fell 57 percent, though revenue grew.

Monsanto Co rose 1.3 percent to $104.94 after raising its full-year profit forecast.

Issues in the euro zone will continue to be in focus a day after Cyprus concluded a bailout deal. The plan, which still requires ratification, would mean the country receives a 10 billion euro loan and that it has until 2018 to carry out measures to shore up its finances. The country's finance minister resigned after concluding the deal.

While investors have largely used any market decline as a buying opportunity, the situation in Cyprus has been a major source of market uncertainty in recent weeks.



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