NEW YORK – Stocks slumped Wednesday after seesawing in a narrow range, as relatively positive April retail sales figures were offset by a continuous flow of corporate earnings warnings.
``The beat of the music on Wall Street is one step forward and two backward,'' said Peter Cardillo, director of research at Westfalia Investments. ``We continue to be stuck in a trading range ... that's typical of a market that is mired with an uncertain outlook.''
The technology-laced Nasdaq Composite Index slipped 48.29 points, or 2.23 percent, to 2,121.66, dragged lower by marquee names like Cisco Systems Inc., Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp.
The blue-chip Dow Jones industrial average fell 76.76 points, or 0.7 percent, to 10,871.62.
The broader Standard & Poor's 500 Index lost 14.25 points, or 1.13 percent, to finish at 1,241.60 -- a low unseen since April 26.
The government revised its U.S. retail sales figure upward to a 1.4 percent gain for April from a previously reported 1.1 percent gain. Investors took that as a good sign despite weak May sales as consumers cut purchases of goods ranging from new cars and clothing to building materials.
``I look at the retail sales as a number that is not dramatically bad, but not indicating the consumer is spending as aggressively as we think,'' said Barry Hyman, chief investment strategist at Ehrenkrantz King Nussbaum. ``But every number we see is one more number we get through. If we could just get the statistics out and move time ahead, the hope is the next month the number will better and the economy will improve.''
But sentiment soured on fresh profit warnings from the likes of Maytag Corp., the No. 3 U.S. home appliance maker, and contact lens maker Bausch & Lomb Inc. Trading volumes were light and even Kraft Food Inc. eked out a only a small gain in the food company's much-hyped market debut.
``People sense recovery is down the road, but there is a lot of uncertainty as to just how long that road really is,'' said Alan Ackerman, chief market strategist at Fahnestock & Co. ''Consequently, money is building on the sidelines. There is not any rush to buy equities at the present time with corporate earnings reports as dicey as they appear to be.''
The indexes, which were mixed for most of the day, took a turn for the worse following an afternoon report that showed growth in the U.S. economy was little changed to somewhat softer in April and May. The data came from the U.S. Federal Reserve's latest anecdotal survey of national economic conditions, known as the ``Beige Book.''
``The Beige Book did not confirm much of anything new, but certainly confirmed that economic conditions have not improved, and if anything, they've gotten a bit worse,'' Cardillo said. The ``Beige Book'' information will be used by the Fed's policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee when it meets on June 26-27 to determine interest-rate strategy. The Fed has slashed rates by a hefty 2-1/2 percentage points since January in an effort to keep the economy from sliding into recession. Maytag lost 31 cents to $32.17 after it said it expected quarterly earnings to be about 25 percent below its previous estimate, as a result of lower sales for vacuum cleaners and other floor care products.
Bausch & Lomb fell $1.23 to $43.77 after it said revenues and earnings would be lower than expected, the latest in a string of warnings by the struggling eye-care products firm.
Beleaguered Internet firm CMGI Inc. lost 93 cents, or 22.46 percent, to $3.21 after it said late Tuesday its net loss more than doubled to nearly $1 billion as the company struggled to keep its stable of Web firms and investments afloat on dwindling cash reserves.
The major equity indexes moved around the unchanged mark in earlier trade. Investors nibbled at select shares in hopes the economy will bounce back by year's end on the back of the rate cuts by the Fed. But the market also is bracing for more corporate confessions of disappointing quarterly earnings.
``Those that are very bullish cite the Fed and the beneficial effect that the aggressive rate cuts have had for next year's numbers,'' said Tony Dwyer, chief market strategist at Kirlin Holdings. ``And the bears have a great point in the weak current quarterly profit picture.''
Intel, the No. 1 computer chip maker, lost $1.07, or 3.55 percent, to $29.06, leading losses by the chipmakers, a sector that is expected to see a surge in profit warnings. Semiconductor-related companies are forecast to issue at least 100 warnings -- 50 of which have already been announced, according to market tracker Thomson Financial.
The approach of Friday's ``triple witching,'' the simultaneous expiration of stock index futures, stock index options and stock options, also played a role in Wednesday's price swings, which typically are seen in the market just ahead of the ``witching'' day, analysts said.
Dow stock General Electric Co. fell 92 cents to $47.85, while merger partner Honeywell International Inc., another Dow component, shed early gains and fell $1.36 to $42.26. GE Chief Executive Jack Welch met with European Competition Commissioner Mario Monti in an effort to win approval of GE's purchase of Honeywell.
Kraft Foods, the biggest U.S. food company, added 25 cents, or 0.81 percent, to $31.25, after an early gain of more than 3 percent, in its market debut. Kraft ranked as the most actively traded issue on the New York Stock Exchange. On Tuesday, Kraft raised $8.7 billion in the second-biggest U.S. initial public offering. Tobacco giant Philip Morris Cos. Inc. , which still owns a controlling stake in Kraft after the IPO, fell 76 cents to $47.81.
Eli Lilly and Co. fell $2.80 to $83.70. The drug giant said U.S. regulators extended their review three months for a treatment of sepsis, a syndrome that can lead to organ failure and death. The delay rattled investors.
Declining issues led advancers 15 to 14 on the New York Stock Exchange. Volume came to 1.06 billion shares, compared with 1.13 billion Tuesday.
The Russell 2000 index was off 1.81 to 505.12.
Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average fell 0.1 percent. Germany's DAX index rose nearly 0.9 percent, Britain's FT-SE 100 gained 0.3 percent, and France's CAC-40 advanced 0.8 percent.
-- Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.