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World stocks retreat on earnings concerns, euro steady

Source : REUTERS
Last Updated: Fri, Oct 12, 2012 19:50 hrs

By Leah Schnurr

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks pulled back on Friday as investors fretted over what is expected to be a weak earnings season, while gains in the euro were checked by uncertainty over whether and when Spain would request help with its finances.

Investors failed to be cheered even by data showing Americans were the most upbeat they have been in five years, as well as record quarterly profits at JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo .

"There's a lot of trepidation about earnings season," said Randy Warren, chief investment officer of Warren Financial Service in Exton, Pennsylvania.

"The predictions have been for weaker earnings, and we've heard a few companies saying things are slowing down a little bit in various places, especially overseas."

Weak global demand has heightened concerns over the prospects for corporate earnings growth. As a group, S&P 500 companies' quarterly earnings are expected to fall 3 percent from a year ago, according to Thomson Reuters data, marking the first decline in three years.

"Investors have been focusing on supportive central bank polices to the exclusion of other things," said Kate Warne, investment strategist at Edward Jones in St Louis. "Now with earnings season, we're seeing some of those other things come back into better balance and that's not as good news for the market."

The Dow Jones industrial average edged down 7.33 points, or 0.06 percent, at 13,319.06. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was down 4.34 points, or 0.30 percent, at 1,428.50. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 4.64 points, or 0.15 percent, at 3,044.77.

Shares of JPMorgan, which had surged before the market's open, and those of Wells Fargo were lower in afternoon trading. Bank shares were down 2.5 percent on the KBW Bank Index.

While JPMorgan's results met analysts' expectations, Wells Fargo came up weaker than expected on a key performance measure. Its shares were down 3.0 percent, while JPMorgan was down 1.1 percent in late trading.

In Europe, the FTSEurofirst 300 ended down 0.5 percent. The MSCI world stock index eased 0.2 percent.

The euro rose against the dollar and yen but the currency looked likely to struggle for traction. A bailout request from indebted Spain is seen as positive for the euro as it would remove another layer of uncertainty in financial markets and activate the European Central Bank's bond-buying program, aimed at lowering borrowing costs for troubled euro zone economies.

"The latest developments do suggest that the Spanish authorities continue contemplating the possibility" (of a bailout request), said Vassili Serebriakov, currency strategist at Wells Fargo in New York.

"While the timing remains highly uncertain, we still believe an aid request is more likely than not," he said.

The dollar was off 0.2 percent against a basket of other major currencies.

The euro was at $1.2960, up 0.3 percent on the day. It has traded in a tight range roughly between $1.28 and $1.3170 since mid-September.

Many markets have been stuck in tight ranges since the start of the month as investors wait to see whether Spain requests a bailout, a prerequisite for the ECB to buy its bonds.

The bloc has another opportunity to make progress with its crisis strategy when EU leaders meet in Brussels on Thursday.

Brent oil fell below $115 a barrel after a prediction of a further decline in oil consumption and higher supplies offset concerns about potential output disruptions in the Middle East.

Brent crude was down $1.09 to $114.62 a barrel, while U.S. crude settled down 21 cents to $91.86.

The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note was up 2/32, the yield at 1.6612 percent.

The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan's index on U.S. consumer sentiment rose to 83.1 in early October from 78.3 a month earlier, its highest since September 2007.

Meanwhile, U.S. producer prices rose more than expected in September, although underlying inflation pressures were muted.

(Additional reporting by Marc Jones in London and Wanfeng Zhou in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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