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Stocks Lower on Consumer Confidence

U.S. stocks wrapped up their best month in almost a year on Tuesday, ending the session little changed as disappointing data on consumer confidence curbed investors' appetite for equities, while a broker's upgrade of Dell Inc. helped the tech sector.

The Dow Jones industrial average slipped 5.77 points, or 0.05 percent, to end at 12,080.73. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was up just 0.01 of a point, or unchanged on a percentage basis, to finish at 1,377.94. The Nasdaq Composite Index dipped 2.94 points, or 0.12 percent, to close at 2,366.71.

For the month, the Dow rose 3.4 percent, followed by a 3.2 percent gain in the S&P 500. The Nasdaq jumped 4.8 percent. It was the best one-month percentage gain for the three indexes since November 2005 and the best October for all three since 2003.

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Pfizer Inc. (PFE) fell after poor results from a study of its experimental cholesterol drug. Pfizer's stock slid 2 percent, or 55 cents, to $26.65 and was the top drag on the S&P 500.

Meanwhile, Dell (DELL) shares jumped 4 percent in the last hour of the regular trading session, after UBS raised its investment rating on the company's stock to "neutral" from "reduce." Dell's stock gained 96 cents, or 4.1 percent, to end at $24.33. It gave one of the biggest lifts to the Nasdaq 100.

"A drop in consumer confidence after a month-long rally just didn't help stocks", said Larry Peruzzi, a senior equity trader at The Boston Co. Asset Management, a Mellon subsidiary.

P&G DROOPS, DATA DISAPPOINTS

Shares of Procter & Gamble Co. (PG), the consumer goods maker, were among the biggest drags on both the Dow and the S&P 500. The company, whose products include Tide detergent and Pampers diapers, beat earnings estimates and lifted its profit outlook, but not enough to impress investors.

P&G's shares dropped 0.7 percent, or 42 cents, to $63.39 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Demand for stocks was cooled by the day's two key economic reports. The Conference Board said its consumer confidence index dipped to 105.4 in October from an upwardly revised reading of 105.9 in September.

In another report, the National Association of Purchasing Management-Chicago said business activity in the U.S. Midwest expanded in October, but at a slower rate than expected.

TECH TAKES THE DELL TRAIN

A bright spot, though, was the technology sector, which got a boost from the UBS upgrade of Dell's stock. Other tech bellwethers, including Intel Corp. (INTC) and Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), also rose, with Intel up 0.4 percent, or 8 cents, at $21.34, and Microsoft up 0.6 percent, or 18 cents, at $28.71. Both trade on the Nasdaq.

Shares of International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) rose about 1 percent, or 83 cents, to $92.33 on the NYSE and helped limit the Dow's decline. The world's largest technology services company said Tuesday its board approved $4 billion in extra funds to repurchase stock.

Also helping the Nasdaq, shares of Sirna Therapeutics Inc. nearly doubled — jumping $6.18 to $12.63 — after drugmaker Merck & Co. (MRK) agreed Monday to acquire the biotech company. Shares of Merck, a Dow component, slipped 0.5 percent, or 22 cents, to $45.42.

Volume was heavy on the NYSE, where about 1.76 billion shares changed hands, above last year's daily average of 1.61 billion. On the Nasdaq, about 2.02 billion shares traded, above last year's daily average of 1.80 billion.

Advancers narrowly outpaced decliners on the Big Board by a ratio of about 17 to 16. In contrast, on the Nasdaq, about eight stocks fell for every seven that rose.

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