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Stocks close lower at the end of a wild week

/ Source: The Associated Press

Stocks stumbled in the final session of a tumultuous week Friday as the yen rallied against the dollar and concerns about the U.S. economy still dogged investors after Tuesday's huge drop.

The Dow Jones industrials logged their worst weekly performance in more than four years; until this week, the stock market had gone more than 45 months without a drop of more than 2 percent in a single session.

The Dow, as it had Thursday, poked tentatively into positive territory Friday before retreating as the yen furthered its gains and investors failed to shake their unease.

Larger economic concerns such as the ascendent yen have dominated Wall Street for much of the week after Tuesday's worldwide selloff that sent the Dow down 416 points and rattled investor confidence about the state of the U.S. economy.

Neil Massa, senior trader at MFC Global Investment Management, said stocks wobbled Friday after the yen broke through a key resistance level of 116.80. The dollar fell 0.92 percent to 116.86 yen.

Concerns lingered about a decline in the yen carry trade, which refers to the process of borrowing yen to acquire assets with greater yields in other currencies. A slowdown could hurt liquidity worldwide. Concerns about Japanese interest rates also weighed on investors.

A well-received profit report from American International Group Inc. kept the Dow industrials from falling further Friday; the insurer and pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. were the only two advancers among the index's 30 stocks. Merck, which received a mixed verdict Friday in a trial over its former painkiller Vioxx, finished up 20 cents at $44.19.

The Dow fell 120.24, or 0.98 percent, to 12,114.10. The Dow has fallen seven of the last eight sessions.

Broader stock indicators also fell. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 16.00, or 1.14 percent, to 1,387.17 and the Nasdaq composite index slid 36.21, or 1.51 percent, to 2,368.00.

For the week, the Dow fell 3.3 percent, the S&P 500 lost 4.4 percent and the Nasdaq fell 5.9 percent. For the Dow and the S&P 500, it was their worst weekly performance since the week ended July 19, 2002. And for the Nasdaq, it was the poorest weekly showing since the week ended Sept. 21, 2001, the first week of trading after the 9/11 terror attacks.

Bond prices rose sharply as economic concerns lingered and raised hopes for an interest rate cut. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note fell to 4.51 percent from 4.55 percent late Thursday. The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, while gold prices fell sharply.

Light, sweet crude settled down 36 cents to $61.64 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after settling at a more than two month high Thursday.

"I think looking at the world economies as a whole it just seems like growth is slowing across the board, or at least that's the impression," he said.

Diane Dercher, chief economist at Waddell & Reed, said investors are trying to sort through the myriad signals the markets have given off this week.

"Fundamentally, I don't think a lot has changed this week and I think it's been more of a psychological re-evaluation of risk and a lot of this is focused around what's happened in the Asian markets," she said.

"There is a renewed focus on how weak the economy is going to be and the data that we've gotten this week have been very mixed and that just adds to confusion about how weak the economy is going to be," Dercher said.

Investors seemed somewhat cheered by the final Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment reading for February, even as it fell to 91.3 from 96.9 from January. Earlier this week, the Conference Board said its own measure of consumer confidence reached a 5 1/2 year high.

With little of the economic data that has at turns boosted and deflated sentiment this week, investors again looked abroad for direction. Performance of overseas markets has taken on renewed importance this week after a nearly 9 percent drop in the Shanghai Composite Index helped touch off the worldwide selling and sent U.S. stocks reeling. The major U.S. indexes each lost more than 3 percent Tuesday, erasing $632 billion (euro480.13 billion) in shareholder equity, according to S&P.

St. Louis Federal Reserve President William Poole said in remarks prepared for a speech Friday in Santiago, Chile, that rising energy prices wouldn't necessarily lead to an economic slowdown if monetary policy were laid out carefully.

With trading less frenetic than in previous days, investors had some time to parse individual stocks as they looked for bargains.

AIG's fourth-quarter profit rose sharply from a year earlier when the world's largest insurer spent $1.64 billion to settle charges over its accounting practices. Profits were slightly below Wall Street's forecast though investors were likely pleased by the company's announcement it would repurchase $5 billion in stock in 2007. The company also is targeting a 20 percent annual increase in its dividend. AIG rose $2.13, or 3.2 percent, to $69.54.

Dell Inc. rose 17 cents to $23.18 after the computer maker's profit fell 33 percent amid weak laptop sales. While revenue fell more than expected, the overall results weren't as sour as some investors had feared.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers by about 3 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.86 billion shares, compared with an unusually heavy 2.22 billion shares traded Thursday.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 15.59, or 1.97 percent, to 775.44.