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Stocks close out month of gains on a losing note 

Stocks finished lower on Thursday, curbing October gains, as investors mulled corporate earnings and pondered the timing of reduced monetary stimulus by the Federal Reserve.

Two days after both the Dow and the S&P 500 closed at record highs, equities fluctuated between modest gains and losses during the day before finishing slightly lower.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed 73 points down, led by Visa after the card-payment network reported less-than-expected revenue.

The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite also closed slightly lower.

Financials led sector losses and consumer discretionary fronted gains among the S&P 500's 10 major industry groups.

"The reality is you have a number of earnings reports that weren't the best," said Dan Greenhaus, chief global strategist at BTIG."Out of the 66 companies I have that reported last night or today, a little more than half are down, and by an average of 5.5 percent.

"Much more than the companies that are up, by the average of 3.7 percent. So the misses are doing much worse," said Greenhaus.

Decliners outran advancers on the New York Stock Exchange, where 578 million shares had traded just ahead of the closing bell. Composite volume neared 3.4 billion.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, gold futures fell nearly 2 percent to finish at $1,323.70 an ounce and crude futures lost 0.4 percent to $96.38 a barrel.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note used in determining mortgage rates and other consumer loans rose 1 basis point to 2.54 percent, while the dollar gained against currencies of major U.S. trading partners.

Stocks briefly jumped in the morning after a barometer of business activity in the Chicago region climbed for a fourth month to 65.9 from 55.7 in September.

The upbeat report on Chicago factory activity should be taken with a "very large grain of salt as it squares with no other data seen," Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at the Lindsey Group, noted in emailed comments.

"Nobody believes the Chicago PMI. Secondly, it becomes a function of 'good news is bad news.' Does it mean the Fed pulls back," added Greenhaus.

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve said it would maintain its $85 billion in monthly bond purchases, noting signs of underlying improvement in the economy but adding it wants to see further signs of improvement before it begins slowing stimulus.

On Thursday, the Labor Department reported fewer Americans filed initial claims for jobless benefits last week, with the government's count declining by 10,000 to 340,000.