* Economic data points to slowdown in U.S. growth
* Shares of eBay slide after forecast disappoints
* UnitedHealth profit falls, shares drop
* Dow off 0.6 pct, S&P 500 off 0.7 pct, Nasdaq off 1.2 pct
By Caroline Valetkevitch
NEW YORK, April 18 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks fell on Thursday
and the S&P 500 closed below a key technical level after
disappointing forecasts from eBay and other companies,
casting doubt on the market's recent strength.
The S&P 500 ended below its 50-day moving average of
1,543.04 for the first time this year, giving more weight to
views that the market's recent rally is losing momentum,
particularly after two days of sharp declines earlier this week.
The Nasdaq 100 and the Russell 2000 indexes
both have closed below their 50-day averages this week, adding
to the overall technical pressure on the market.
Technology led the day's fall. Shares of eBay
dropped 5.9 percent to $52.82, a day after the e-commerce
company posted results and gave a disappointing earnings
forecast for the second quarter. The S&P technology sector index
shed 1.4 percent.
Apple shares extended their slide from Wednesday,
when the stock broke below $400 for the first time since
December 2011. The stock tumbled 2.7 percent to $392.05 on
The CBOE Volatility Index, Wall Street's fear index,
gained 6.4 percent to 17.56. The VIX is up roughly 46 percent
for the week so far. It still remains well below its recent
highs, but the gains could signal a change in the market trend.
Stocks have rallied for much of the year on views that the
U.S. economy is strengthening and the Federal Reserve will keep
its economic stimulus in place.
More recent data on the economy has been less upbeat. On
Wednesday, reports showed factory activity in the Mid-Atlantic
region cooled in April and the index of leading indicators, a
gauge of future U.S. economic activity, fell in March for the
first time in seven months.
"The fact that it's a down day is not that surprising. We
haven't had great economic news," said Karyn Cavanaugh, market
strategist at ING Investment Management in Hartford,
The Dow Jones industrial average slid 81.45 points,
or 0.56 percent, to end at 14,537.14. The Standard & Poor's 500
Index dropped 10.40 points, or 0.67 percent, to 1,541.61.
The Nasdaq Composite Index fell 38.31 points, or 1.20
percent, to close at 3,166.36.
Volume was roughly 7.04 billion shares traded on the New
York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and the NYSE MKT, compared with
the average daily closing volume of about 6.36 billion this
Volume has been heavier on negative days this week, as many
investors have anticipated a pullback for some time after
stocks' strong run to start the year, and are quick to book
The S&P 500's moving average was also the floor of the
trading range during the last month, making 1,543 a key
technical support, according to Richard Ross, global technical
strategist at Auerbach Grayson in New York.
Ross and others noted that the S&P 500 has posted negative
second quarters in the last three years.
The S&P 500's healthcare sector also experienced big
declines, with UnitedHealth Group Inc down 3.8 percent
at $59.69, after the insurer lowered its 2013 revenue outlook.
S&P 500 earnings are now expected to have risen 1.9 percent
in the first quarter, up from the 1.5 percent estimate at the
start of the month, based on actual results from 82 companies
and estimates for the rest, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Of those that have reported, 72 percent have topped
analysts' expectations, but only 43.9 percent have beaten