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Stocks finish lower amid Europe debt worries

Wall Street stocks declined in a holiday-shortened session Friday amid deep concerns that debt problems affecting countries such as Ireland and Portugal could spread to other euro zone members.
/ Source: staff and news service reports

Wall Street stocks declined in a holiday-shortened session Friday amid deep concerns that debt problems affecting countries such as Ireland and Portugal could spread to other euro zone members.

The worries were overshadowing what many expect could be an upbeat sales day for U.S. retailers. The day after Thanksgiving is traditionally considered the start of the holiday shopping season and "Black Friday" was off to a strong start, according to reports.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 95.28, or 0.9 percent, to 11,092.00. The S&P 500 index declined 8.95, or 0.8 percent, to 1,189.40. The Nasdaq composite index fell 8.56, or 0.3 percent, to 2,534.56.

Falling shares outpaced rising ones by two to one on the New York Stock Exchange. Consolidated volume on the New York Stock Exchange was 1.5 billion, which was just about a third of the usual volume.

U.S. stock markets closed at 1 p.m. EST instead of the usual 4 p.m. Markets were closed Thursday for the holiday.

Retailers kicked the day off in the wee hours with deep discounts intended to attract bargain-hungry shoppers.

In a bid to grab shoppers earlier, a number of stores including Old Navy, Toys R Us and Sears opened on Thanksgiving Day. Toys R Us was counting on getting an extra boost by opening 24 hours straight, starting at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving.

Early signs pointed to a solid turnout for the traditional start to the holiday shopping season. In an encouraging sign for retailers and for the economy, more shoppers appeared to be buying for themselves than last year, when such indulgences were limited. Lengthened hours that pushed some store openings into Thanksgiving also appeared to pay off.

Sales during the Thanksgiving weekend made up 12.3 percent of all holiday revenue last year, according to research firm ShopperTrak. Black Friday accounted for half of that.

In Friday trading, Macy's Inc. shares were up 11 cents to $26.

European stock markets and the euro fell Friday as worries mount that Portugal will need cash from other European Union countries to help manage its debts before the country's borrowing costs rise too high.

Portugal's finance minister said the country rejected the idea floated by some E.U. members that it should take a bailout before bond investors force the country's bond yields up. Meanwhile, Germany and France have said they would like a quicker resolution to the ongoing debt crisis.

"Until there's final resolution of both Spain and Portugal investors will continue to be fearful," said John O'Donoghue, co-head of equities at Cowen & Co.

The 16-nation euro fell to $1.3244 in midday trading Friday from $1.3368 late Thursday, earlier dipping below $1.32 for the first time since Sept. 21. The Euro Stoxx 50, which tracks the shares of blue chip companies in countries that use the euro, slipped 0.7 percent.

Meanwhile, the Standard & Poor's credit ratings agency downgraded Ireland's banks as speculation mounted that an EU-IMF bailout of Ireland could require senior bondholders to help cover the losses.

"It doesn't seem the European Union has a defensible solution for this debt crisis and that makes investors very nervous," said Kim Caughey Forrest, senior equity research analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh.

"The bright side is it seems the American consumer is back with a vengeance. If we are to believe the CEOs of retailers, they feel they can support margins with prices that are attracting consumers."

Fears about a Korean conflict may also weigh on stocks. North Korea warned Friday that plans by South Korea and the U.S. to stage military maneuvers have put the Korean peninsula on the brink of war. North Korea fired artillery shells at a South Korean island on Tuesday, killing four people.

In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was down 41.71 points, or 0.7 percent, at 5,657.22 while Germany's DAX fell 32.98 points, or 0.5 percent, to 6,846.68. The CAC-40 in France was 44.30 points, or 1.2 percent, lower at 3,716.12.

It was the end of a rollercoaster week. Stocks fell on Tuesday after North Korea's shelling, but surged on Wednesday after a batch of economic reports buoyed hopes that the U.S. economic recovery was gaining strength. The reports showed that Americans' income rose and consumer spending climbed in October. And fewer people filed first-time claims for unemployment benefits last week.

Overall, stocks ended the week mixed. The Dow ended 112 points lower, and the Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 10. However, the technology-heavy Nasdaq composite index gained 17 points for the week.