US STOCKS-Wall St falls as Oracle extends losses, overshadows data

Last Updated: Thu, Mar 21, 2013 14:50 hrs

* Oracle plunges after price target cuts; shares off 10 pct

* Philly Fed factory activity expands in March

* U.S. existing home sales touch three-year high

* U.S. jobless claims point to improving labor market

* Indexes down: Dow 0.6 pct; S&P 0.6 pct, Nasdaq 0.9 pct

By Angela Moon

NEW YORK, March 21 (Reuters) - Wall Street fell on Thursday as Oracle dragged technology stocks down sharply, while investors kept an eye on events in Cyprus as it struggled to avoid a banking collapse.

The steep decline in the tech sector overshadowed a batch of data that suggested U.S. economic recovery was on the right track, including improvements in factory activity in the mid-Atlantic region.

Oracle Corp shares were down nearly 10 percent at $32.18 after a number of brokerages cut their price target on the company following a severe miss by its third-quarter results.

The European Central Bank gave Cyprus until Monday to raise billions of euros to clinch an international bailout or face losing emergency funds for its banks and inevitable collapse.

But despite the day's decline, the S&P is still up about 9 percent up for the year and the Dow is up 10 percent so far in 2013.

"There is definitely more momentum left to the upside. In many days, we see the market start off lower but we manage to cut that by the end o the day. That's market strength," said Frank Gretz, chief technical analyst at Shields & Co in New York.

But further weakness came from abroad. German data suggesting Europe's largest economy would eke out meagre growth this quarter, rattled investors already nervous about Cyprus's debt crisis.

Oracle, the world's No. 3 software maker, blamed its rapidly expanding salesforce for a severe miss in third-quarter software sales and warned that its ailing hardware business will lose more ground this quarter. The company reported results late Wednesday.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 85.44 points, or 0.59 percent, at 14,426.29. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was down 9.10 points, or 0.58 percent, at 1,549.61. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 26.76 points, or 0.82 percent, at 3,227.43.

Technology stocks were the biggest decliners. IBM shares were off 1.9 percent at $210.93 and Cisco Systems shares fell 3.5 percent at $20.93.

The latest data on the domestic jobs market showed the number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits edged higher last week, but a trend reading dropped to its lowest in five years and pointed to healing in the labor setor.

The Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank said its business activity index rose to 2 from minus 12.5 in February, topping economists' expectations for minus 2. Market reaction was muted to both data.

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