US stocks fall as Portugal bank worries rattle world markets


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FILE - In this May 11, 2007, file photo, a Wall Street sign is mounted near the flag-draped facade of the New York Stock Exchange. Corporate earnings season is off to a positive start, helping lift the stock market Wednesday, July 9, 2014, after two days of declines. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)


NEW YORK — Worries about the soundness of a European bank pushed U.S. stocks lower Thursday and sent global investors hunting for less risky assets.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average was down 130 points, or 0.8 percent, to 16,856 as of 10:20 a.m. Eastern time. Earlier, though, the blue-chip index had tumbled as much as 180 points on worrisome news out of Europe about accounting irregularities at a Portuguese bank.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 14 points, or 0.7 percent, to 1,959 and the Nasdaq composite fell 45 points, or 1 percent, to 4,375.

PORTUGAL WORRIES: Worries emerged overnight about the financial stability of a Portuguese bank. Espirito Santo Financial Group was forced to suspend trading in its shares Thursday due to accounting irregularities at Espirito Santo International, its largest shareholder. Espirito Santo Financial Group is, in turn, the largest shareholder in Banco Espirito Santo, Portugal's largest bank. The bank's share price fell sharply and is an unwelcome relapse for investors. Portugal just concluded its three-year international bailout program in May.

Portugal needed a 78 billion euro rescue in 2011 during the eurozone's debt crisis.

PRICED FOR PERFECTION: The Dow closed above 17,000 for the first time just a week ago. With stocks trading near those all-time highs, investors argue that even a small hiccup in the global economy is going to upset the market.

"When you're priced to perfection, anything less than perfection is going to disappoint," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank in Chicago.

EUROPE: Major stock indexes tumbled in Germany and France. Both the DAX in Frankfurt and the CAC-40 in Paris slumped 1.3 percent. Spain's IBEX lost 2 percent and the Euro Stoxx 50 index, the European equivalent of the Dow, was down 1.5 percent.

FLIGHT TO SAFETY: Investors retreated into their traditional havens in times of market turmoil: U.S. government bonds and gold. The yield on the U.S. 10-year note dropped to 2.51 percent from 2.55 percent late Wednesday. Gold rose $17.30, or 1.3 percent, to $1,341.50 an ounce.

JOBS: In a bit of good news in the U.S., applications for unemployment benefits sank last week. The Labor Department said weekly applications for unemployment benefits dropped to 304,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, dipped 3,500 to 311,500, the second-lowest reading since August 2007.

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