Stocks Fall on Inflation, Economy Worries

Wall Street was mixed Thursday, with blue chips falling and technology stocks managing a slight gain while investors tussled with their concerns about inflation and the overall health of the economy.

Lower oil prices, which have helped drive stock rallies in recent days, remained a bright spot but another drop Thursday wasn't enough to offset investor concerns about inflation ahead of next week's Federal Reserve meeting. Investors grew uneasy Thursday after the Labor Department reported import prices rose a larger than expected 0.8 percent in August.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 15.93, or 0.14 percent, to 11,527.39.

Broader stock indicators were mixed. The Standard & Poor's 500 index was down 1.79, or 0.14 percent, to 1,316.28 while the Nasdaq composite index gained 1.06, or 0.05 percent, to 2,228.73.

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The Commerce Department said sales rose an anemic 0.2 percent last month, and although Wall Street had been expecting a decline, some investors worried consumer spending was losing momentum. The modest increase in retail sales followed a 1.4 percent rise in July.

Thursday's relatively quiet session was to be expected after sharp rallies earlier in the week — the gains were actually a little unexpected for some market watchers.

"Everyone knew you couldn't make money in September," said Richard E. Cripps, chief market strategist with Stifel Nicolaus. He contends some investors who regard September as a consistently weak month for the markets and perhaps an indicator of how Wall Street will finish the year have been caught off guard by the recent rally. But Thursday's decline was quite muted.

Oil prices fell even after the United States reported a drop in crude inventories on Wednesday. A barrel of crude fell 75 cents to settle at $63.22 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Natural gas futures for October fell to their lowest level in two years after the Energy Department released figures showing stores of natural gas were much larger than expected.

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