NEW YORK – Technology companies led the stock market to its third straight loss Thursday after an earnings report from Cisco Systems raised more questions about the economy.
A weekly employment report that was weaker than expected also made investors uneasy about the strength of the economic recovery. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 58 points and now has an almost 380-point loss the past three days. The Dow has also fallen five of the last six days. The Nasdaq composite index had a steeper loss in percentage terms, a reflection of the drop in tech stocks.
Cisco Systems Inc. released earnings after the market closed Wednesday. Cisco is seen by many traders and analysts as an indicator of the economy's health, and it disappointed investors in several ways. The computer networking company's revenue for its fiscal fourth quarter and forecast for revenue fell short of analysts' expectations. Investors are focused on the connection between revenue and the economy. If revenue is weak, that could be a sign that consumers are reluctant to spend and could start to affect companies' profits.
The timing of Cisco's report was also troubling. Craig Peckham, a market strategist at Jefferies & Co., noted that Cisco's quarter ended in July, a month later than most at companies, so it gives investors a first look at how businesses are doing in the July-September period.
Peckham said investors also reacted to comments by Cisco CEO John Chambers, who said late Wednesday, "We think the words 'unusual uncertainty' are an accurate description of what's occurring" in the economy. Chambers echoed the words chosen by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke last month.
Technology stocks were the worst performer Thursday among the nine sectors that make up the Standard & Poor's 500 index. The tech sector fell 1.15 percent. Cisco was down 10 percent. Microsoft Corp. was down 1.5 percent, and Oracle Corp. fell 3 percent.
Other big stocks seen as vulnerable in a weak economy also fell. Shipper FedEx Corp. lost 1.4 percent and heavy equipment maker Caterpillar Inc. fell 1.8 percent. Health care companies, called defensive stocks because they are likely to do well in a weak economy, were among the day's winners.
Investors have generally been selling since the stock market reached its 2010 peak in late April because they don't have a sense of whether the recovery will hold. Some fear that the economy will fall back into recession because of high unemployment and weak consumer spending. They cite a long string of weak economic reports and revenue disappointments like Cisco's as reasons for their pessimism. And earlier this week, the Fed said the recovery had slowed and it would buy government notes and bonds in hopes of stimulating lending and the economy as a whole.
The uncertainty has kept many traders out of the market in July and August, months when trading volume is already down because of vacations. Analysts say low volume has exaggerated price changes.
The Dow fell 58.88, or 0.6 percent, to 10,319.95. The average has lost 360 points over the past six days.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 5.86, or 0.5 percent, to 1,083.61. The Nasdaq composite index fell 18.36, or 0.8 percent, to 2,190.27.
Losing stocks were ahead of gainers by about 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange, where consolidated volume came to 4 billion shares, down from Wednesday's 4.6 billion.
Interest rates rose in the Treasury market after falling sharply Wednesday, when investors were seeking the safety of government securities. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which rises as its price falls, was 2.75 percent, up from late Wednesday's 2.69 percent.
The Labor Department said that the number of people filing for unemployment benefits for the first time rose last week to 484,000. The gain was small at 2,000, but economists had expected the number to drop. The news pointed to continuing weakness in the labor market, yet another sign that the economic recovery is slowing.
Charlie Smith, chief investment officer with Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh, predicted few major market moves for the rest of the month because so many traders are away.
Smith also said the market's drop over the past few months was due more to a negative outlook by investors rather than a fundamental change in the economy.
"We had a weak recovery back in March and April," Smith said. At that point, the market was moving toward its highest level since the financial crisis struck in September 2008. Stocks began falling after the major indexes peaked in late April.
Markets in Europe fell Thursday after the U.S. unemployment news, then regained ground. In London, the FTSE-100 index was up 0.4 percent. Germany's DAX index was down 0.3 percent, while the CAC-40 index in Paris was down 0.2 percent. Earlier, Japan's Nikkei index closed down 0.9 percent.
There were disappointments among Thursday's earnings reports. Sara Lee Corp.'s revenue missed analysts' forecasts. And retailer Kohl's Corp. disappointed the market by lowering its earnings outlook because it expects sales to slow during the second half of the year. That period includes the holiday season, when retailers make a large part of their profits.
Sara Lee fell 10 cents, or 0.7 percent, to $14.37. Kohl's fell $1.28, or 2.7 percent, to $46.50.
In other earnings news, General Motors Co. reported net income of $1.33 billion in the April-June quarter, its second straight quarterly profit. The company, which is 61 percent owned by the federal government, is moving toward a public offering of its shares. The company also had a surprise announcement. CEO Ed Whitacre will step down Sept. 1 and be replaced by GM board member Daniel Akerson, head of the global buyout unit of The Carlyle Group, a private equity firm.
Cisco fell $2.37, or 10 percent, to $21.36. Microsoft was off 37 cents, or 1.5 percent, at $24.49. And Oracle dropped 72 cents, or 3 percent, to $22.94
Caterpillar fell $1.21, or 1.8 percent, to $67.50, while FedEx fell $1.19, or 1.4 percent, to $81.94.