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Stocks waver on mixed manufacturing, earnings news

NEW YORK – Investors aren’t making many big moves at the start of May following the market’s best month in nine years.

Stocks wavered in a tight range around the flat line following mixed data on manufacturing and lackluster earnings reports. Wall Street has been growing more optimistic about the economy stabilizing, but the reports Friday brought a reminder that business conditions are still tough.

A private group’s measure of the manufacturing industry showed a slower contraction in April than in March. But the government said orders to U.S. factories in March fell more than expected.

In earnings news, MasterCard Inc.’s first-quarter revenue fell short of expectations and two major insurance companies posted losses for the first quarter.

Rosy earnings reports have been a major driver of the stock market over the past few weeks. The S&P 500 index, a broad measure of the market, rose 9.4 percent in April, the biggest monthly jump since March 2000.

“After the big run-up everyone is just trying to step back and trying to put their game plan together for the next month,” said Sean Simko, head of fixed income management at SEI Investments in Philadelphia. “It’s healthy for the market to take a break.”

In early afternoon trading, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 7.09, or 0.1 percent, to 8,161.03.

Broader stock indicators also showed modest moves. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 1.05, or 0.1 percent, to 873.86, and the Nasdaq composite index fell 0.74, or less than 0.1 percent, to 1,716.56.

Investors looked to the economic and earnings reports for clues about the economy.

MasterCard fell $13.50, or 7.4 percent, to $169.95 after the company’s warning about continued weakness in revenues touched off concerns that the economy could take longer to stabilize than expected.

Two insurers, The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. and MetLife Inc., posted losses for the first quarter. The Hartford fell 95 cents, or 8.3 percent, to $10.52, while MetLife fell $2.63, or 8.8 percent, to $27.12.

There were some bright spots in the earnings reports, however. Computer security software maker McAfee Inc.’s profit jumped 77 percent, pushing its stock up $2.79, or 7.4 percent, to $40.33.

News on Thursday that Chrysler LLC will go through bankruptcy reorganization put just a small dent in Wall Street’s recovery, which began in early March. The Dow, still up 24.8 percent from its 12-year low on March 9, dipped 0.2 percent on the last day of April.

Many obstacles could stymie the rally, however, including the upcoming results of how major banks fared under government “stress tests,” which are expected on Thursday. The tests are meant to show which of the 19 largest U.S. banks need more capital to survive a severe economic downturn.

Simko said it was encouraging that the stock market was taking the news of the delay well.

“Investors easily could have assumed the worst with the delays,” he said. “It’s a positive that they’re waiting for the results and not trying to anticipate what is going to be revealed.”

Citigroup Inc. is one of the banks investors are most worried about. On Friday, Citigroup announced it is selling its Japanese brokerage business to Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc. for about $5.6 billion. The troubled bank has been shedding businesses over the past year to slim down and raise cash. Citi slipped 1 cent to $3.04.

Many financial stocks were flat. Wells Fargo & Co. slipped 1 cent to $20, while Goldman Sachs Group Inc. rose 25 cents to $128.75.

Energy stocks rose as light, sweet crude rose $1.91 to $53.03 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Occidental Petroleum rose $2.07, or 3.7 percent, to $58.36, while Devon Energy Corp. rose $2.23, or 4.3 percent, to $54.08.

In other trading, the Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 1.20, or 0.3 percent, to 488.76.

About four stocks rose for every three stocks that fell on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to a light 535.6 million shares.

U.S. government bond prices fell, pushing the yield on the 10-year note up to 3.20 percent from 3.12 percent late Thursday.

The dollar was mixed against other major currencies. Gold prices fell.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average rose 1.7 percent. In Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 slipped less than 0.1 percent in afternoon trading. Germany’s DAX and France’s CAC-40 were closed for a holiday.

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