Falling Techs Drive Stocks Lower

U.S. stocks slipped Thursday as the Nasdaq Composite Index registered its sixth straight day of losses, hurt by a drop in the shares of Web search company Google Inc. (GOOG).

Investors took cautious positions before Friday's U.S. payroll report, which could influence the Fed to keep raising interest rates. They also fretted about volatile oil prices.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 33.46 points, or 0.30 percent, to end at 10,972.28. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index declined 6.24 points, or 0.49 percent, to 1,272.23. The Nasdaq Composite Index dropped 17.74 points, or 0.78 percent, to 2,249.72 — marking its sixth day of closing lower, its longest losing streak in 14 months.

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Google's shares fell 3.1 percent to $343, marking the first time the stock has ever closed below its 200-day moving average — considered to be a technically bearish signal among traders.

On Wednesday, Google said it agreed to pay up to $90 million to settle a "click fraud" suit, and UBS cut its price target on the stock.

"It may be a little bit of a buyers' strike ... if we do get a strong (payroll) report tomorrow, it suggests the Fed is going to have to be more agressive," said Jeff Kleintop, chief investment strategist at PNC Advisors.

The Labor Department's report on U.S. jobs growth in February, due early Friday, will give important clues on the economy's growth and wage-related inflation, factors likely to influence the Fed's decisions about interest-rate increases, analysts said.

Economists polled by Reuters expect U.S. nonfarm payrolls added 210,000 jobs in February, a sign of steady U.S. job growth that could add to inflation fears.

Another source of inflation worry for stock investors was the price of oil.

U.S. crude oil for April delivery rose 45 cents to settle at $60.47 per barrel after climbing as high as $60.90 a barrel. The price of the NYMEX April crude contract is down 5 percent from last Friday's settlement at $63.67.

Concerns about volatility in oil prices weighed on shares of Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), the largest publicly traded oil company. Exxon's stock fell 1.3 percent, or 79 cents, to end at $58.92 on the New York Stock Exchange. It exerted the most negative pull on the S&P 500, and also ranked among the biggest decliners in the Dow industrials.

The stock market's earlier gains on news that Japan's central bank would leave interest rates unchanged for now, were wiped out by early afternoon.

Earlier this week, stocks and bonds fell worldwide because of worries that the Bank of Japan, the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank might all be on the verge of raising interest rates, stalling global economic growth.

"Good news is almost being ignored and bad news is being accentuated, and that's been the pattern for a week or so," said Tom McIntyre, president and chief portfolio manager at McIntyre, Freedman & Flynn, a Massachussetts money manager.

Investors also continued rotation out of stocks thought to be sensitive to interest rates or cyclical investment.

Shares of heavy machinery maker Caterpillar Inc. (CAT) were the biggest drag on the Dow industrials, falling 1.4 percent,or $1.00, to $71.40 on the NYSE. Shares of Home Depot Inc. (HD), the world's largest home improvements retailer, declined 1.3 percent, or 52 cents, to $40.64 on concerns about housing.

Small-cap stocks also finished lower, adding to the decline on the Nasdaq. The Russell 2000 index , which tracks small company performance, fell 0.5 percent.

Trading was light on the New York Stock Exchange, where decliners beat advancers by about 9 to 7. About 1.55 billion shares changed hands on the Big Board, below the 1.62 billion daily average for last year.

On Nasdaq, decliners outnumbered advancers by a ratio of about 3 to 2.

Volume was brisk on the Nasdaq, with about 2.0 billion shares traded, topping the 1.8 billion daily average last year.