- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 5, 2013

NEW YORK (AP) — A series of weak economic reports sent the stock market sliding to its lowest level in a month.

Companies such miners, banks and chemical makers, whose fortunes are most closely tied to the prospects for growth, fell the most — a sign investors are becoming less confident in the U.S. economy.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell more than 200 points in afternoon trading. Bank of America fell 2.3 percent, or 31 cents, to $13.04, the biggest percentage drop in the Dow.

The troubling economic data included weak hiring at private companies, orders to U.S. factories that were lower than expected and sluggish job growth in the service sector.

Investors have become increasingly sensitive to economic reports in the last two weeks. They are trying to anticipate when the Federal Reserve will pull back on its $85 billion of bond purchases a month. That program has supported markets this year, and on some days stocks even have rallied on speculation that an ailing economy would ensure the stimulus will remain in place.

“We’re pleased to see the market sell off on some bad news,” said John Lynch, a regional chief investment officer for Wells Fargo private bank. “The whole idea that bad news was good news was frustrating because it suggests to me that the markets are becoming too Fed-dependent.”

Investors were also unnerved by a plunge in mortgage applications last week. That decrease is a disappointment because the rebound in housing has been one of the key factors supporting the stock market’s record-breaking rally this year.

Applications for home loans dropped 11.5 percent from a week earlier, the Mortgage Bankers Association said. The decline came as mortgage rates rose the highest point since April 2012. The rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rose to 4.07 percent last week from 3.90 percent.

Housing stocks slumped in response. D.R. Horton drop 61 cents, or 2.7 percent, to $22.31. Beazer Homes fell 46 cents to $18.91, a decline of 2.2 percent.

The rise in mortgage rates is due in large part to a jump in the yield on the 10-year Treasury note. The yield climbed as high as 2.2 percent last week, the highest in more than two years.

There was also disappointing news on hiring, another one of the key supports for the market’s rally this year.

A measure of employment in the service sector fell to the lowest level since last July. That’s a troubling sign because service companies, a broad category that includes entertainment, transportation and health care, have been the main source of job gains in the past several months.

That report was released shortly after payroll provider ADP said U.S. businesses added just 135,000 jobs in May, the second straight month of weak gains. The increases are much lower than those reported over the winter, which averaged more than 200,000 a month from November through February.

Stocks started the day lower and continued to slide throughout the day.

With an hour of trading left, the Standard & Poor’s 500 index was down 19 points, or 1.2 percent, to 1,612. The index has is about 3 percent below its record-high close of 1,669 reached May 21.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 191 points, or 1.3 percent, to 14,985. It fell as much as 231 points earlier. The Dow hasn’t been below 15,000 since May 7.

The losses were broad. All 10 industry groups in the index declined. The sell-off was led by companies that make basic materials, industrial companies and banks.

As traders sold stocks, they moved money into the safe haven of U.S. government bonds. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.09 percent from 2.15 percent late Tuesday.

A global sell-off before stock markets opened in New York was also making investors nervous.

Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index had another day to forget. Investors were disappointed at the lack of detail in a keynote speech on the economy from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The Nikkei lost 3.8 percent to 13,014. It’s now down 20 percent from its peak in mid-May after soaring at the start of the year, thanks to aggressive stimulus measures from the Bank of Japan.

“I’m very concerned about what’s going on in Japan,” said Doug Cote, chief market strategist at ING. “Some people might be scratching their head and saying that it could happen to us.”

European stock markets also fell. Indexes fell 1.9 percent in France, 1.2 percent in Germany and 2.1 percent in Britain.

In commodities trading, the price of crude oil rose 43 cents, or 0.5 percent, to $93.74 a barrel. Gold edged up $1.30 to settle at $1,398.50. The dollar fell against the euro and the Japanese yen.

In other trading, the Nasdaq composite dropped 37 points, or 1.1 percent, to 3,407.

Among other stocks making big moves:

• Walgreen rose 93 cents, or 1.9 percent, to $48.94 after the company reported revenue from established stores beat analysts’ expectations for May, even though a rise in generic drugs continues to hurt revenue at the nation’s largest drugstore chain.

• Apple fell $2.44, or 0.5 percent, to $447 after a U.S. trade agency issued a ban on imports of Apple’s iPhone 4 and a variant of the iPad 2 after finding the devices violate a patent held by South Korean rival Samsung Electronics.

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