NEW YORK - Wall Street retreated Tuesday, extending its losses into a fourth session despite better-than-expected earnings from The Home Depot and a brokerage firm upgrade for General Electric Co.
In late afternoon trading, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 71.85, or 0.7 percent, at 9,638.98, following three down days that saw the index lose 138 points. Terror fears contributed to market losses around the world on Monday.
The broader gauges were also lower. The Nasdaq composite index was down 18.66, or 1 percent, at 1,890.95. The Standard & Poor's 500 index was down 6.94, or 0.7 percent, at 1,036.69.
The market fluctuated for much of the day before turning lower in the final hours of trading, although some retailers, semiconductor issues and communications firms saw gains. Given relatively good news, Wall Street's inability to advance after three days of declines was discouraging, said Richard A. Dickson, senior market strategist at Lowry's Research Reports in Palm Beach, Fla.
"We're struggling to make gains, and that could mean that we are looking at perhaps the most significant pullback since the market started to rally back in March. That's the potential," Dickson said. "The market has been growing more vulnerable to bad news, and that becomes more obvious as it's unable to rally on good news."
In Washington, a Labor Department report found consumer prices were flat in October as falling costs of gasoline and other energy products canceled out the biggest jump in beef and veal prices in 24 years.
The Consumer Price Index, the government's most closely watched inflation barometer, showed overall prices eased in October, following four consecutive months of increases. Economists were expecting a tiny 0.1 percent increase in overall prices.
Some analysts said the markets were taking a natural pause ahead of the lighter-volume days associated with the Thanksgiving holidays. Investors may simply be stepping back in order to take some profits, said Jay Suskind, head trader at Ryan Beck & Co.
"I'm not alarmed, I think it's rather healthy," Suskind said. "It's an organized selloff in that there's no sense of panic. Hopefully this will build a new base so the market can rally before the end of the year."
Among the advancers, General Electric gained 76 cents to $28.57 after Merrill Lynch upgraded it to a "buy" from a "neutral," and set a $33 price target, citing a shift toward higher-growth, higher-return businesses.
But The Home Depot dropped 40 cents to $35.07, despite beating Wall Street expectations with a 22 percent jump in third-quarter earnings. The nation's largest home improvement store chain also raised its full-year earnings growth guidance.
Saks Inc. shed 21 cents to $14.79 after reporting earnings that were well above expectations. The department store operator also confirmed plans to name Fred Wilson, former chief executive of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, as president and CEO of the Saks Fifth Avenue Enterprises unit.
Staples Inc. was up 49 cents at $25.49 after reporting a 29 percent jump in profits, beating analyst estimates. The office supply retailer cited a strong back-to-school season and sales of furniture, business machines and services.
Among semiconductor stocks, Terradyne Inc. was up 58 cents at $23.73 after Prudential Equity Group raised it to "overweight" from "neutral," citing business momentum.
Agilent Technologies Inc. rose $1.24, or 4.6 percent, to $27.99, after swinging to a profit in the latest quarter despite a revenue decline, as total costs and expenses fell 24 percent. The supplier of electronic test and measurement products predicted the next quarter would be seasonally weaker.
Computer graphics firm ATI Technologies Inc. rose $1.27, or 9.2 percent, to $15.12, after offering a bright forecast for the next quarter.
Europe's largest mobile phone operator, Vodafone Group PLC, was up $1.47, or 6.9 percent, at $22.91, after reporting strong first-half results and boosting its dividend by 20 percent.
Sun Microsystems Inc. was up 11 cents at $4.19 after announcing a deal to license desktop software in China. The agreement with China could make Sun's systems the standard personal computer software in the world's most populous country.
Decliners slightly outnumbered advancers on the New York Stock Exchange. Volume was 995.53 million shares, compared with 1.01 billion shares traded at the same point Monday.
The Russell 2000 index, which tracks smaller company stocks, was down 3.65, or 0.7 percent, at 522.56.
Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average finished 1.1 percent higher Tuesday, after shedding 3.7 percent in the previous session.
European stocks were mixed. France's CAC-40 lost 0.2 percent, Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.4 percent and Germany's DAX index declined 0.2 percent.