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Wall Street wavers amid earnings worries

Stocks struggled to a mixed finish Thursday after weak earnings news from 3M and other companies weighed on the market.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Stocks struggled to a mixed finish Thursday after weak earnings news from 3M and other companies weighed on the market.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 12 points, but broader indexes posted slight gains. The market had risen steadily in the opening moments of trading following a surprise drop in first-time claims for unemployment benefits, pushing the Dow up as high as 53.

3M Co. set a negative tone with a downbeat view on the economy and a lower forecast for full-year earnings. 3M's dim assessment of the U.S. and European economies was a sobering reminder that growth in many developed nations remains weak. The maker of everything from Post-It notes to Scotch Tape called growth in those regions "uninspiring." Its shares fell 6.4 percent.

Apple Inc. fell about 1 percent after warning in a regulatory filing that profit margins might narrow next year. Colgate-Palmolive Co. also said it expects sales growth to slow next year.

Not all the corporate news was bad. Eastman Kodak Co. rose 15.4 percent after saying more customers turned to home and office printers. Motorola Inc. said its phone division was profitable for the first time in three years as the company bets consumers will snap up more smart phones like the Droid X.

Avon Products Inc. sank 5.6 percent after reporting suprisingly poor results from emerging markets. The beauty products seller said weakness in Brazil and Russia hurt quarterly profits. Many companies have relied heavily on expansion in developing countries to offset lagging sales in the U.S. and Europe.

Mixed earnings over the past few days sapped energy from an upswing on the stock market, which has been on a nearly unbroken rise since early September.

Pharmaceutical companies Bayer AG and Sanofi-Aventis SA and automaker Hyundai Motor Co. kicked off earnings worldwide with upbeat results, sending stocks higher overseas before U.S. markets opened.

A surprise drop in claims for unemployment insurance provided the most encouragement about the economy. Claims fell to their lowest level in three months, bolstering hopes that companies might start ramping up hiring soon.

The Dow fell 12.33, or 0.1 percent, to close at 11,113.95.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 1.33 point to 1,183.78, while the Nasdaq composite rose 4.11, or 0.2 percent, to 2,507.37.

Not even a falling dollar could provide support for the market. Stocks and commodities have been very sensitive to the movement of the dollar in recent weeks. A decline in the dollar makes riskier assets priced in the currency, such as gold, oil and domestic stocks, more attractive to investors.

The dollar was broadly lower against other currencies, while commodities prices mostly rose. Gold rose $19.90 to $1,342.50 an ounce.

Bond prices rose. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, fell to 2.66 percent from 2.72 percent late Wednesday.

Gaining stocks narrowly outpaced declining ones on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1 billion shares.