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Stocks drop as investors fret over budget fight

FILE - In this Sept. 18 2013 file phoTrader F. Hill Creekmore works floor New York Stock Exchange. Global stock

FILE - In this Sept. 18, 2013 file photo, Trader F. Hill Creekmore works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Global stock markets fell Friday Sept. 20, 2013, two days after the Fed announced it would keep its unprecedented stimulus in place. Public holidays kept trading muted in Asia. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

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Updated: September 20, 2013 4:32PM



Washington’s budget fight jolted Wall Street on Friday, reminding it that the next few weeks could bring a lot of uncertainty.

Investors hate uncertainty, and stocks plunged in afternoon sell-off that wiped out all the gains from rally earlier this week, when the Federal Reserve kept its huge economic stimulus program intact.

Major indexes were mixed in morning trading, but turned lower around midday after the U.S. House of Representatives voted to defund President Barack Obama’s health care law.

The vote itself wasn’t a surprise, but it reminded investors that the Republican-led House and the Democratic-controlled Senate are poised for a showdown over federal spending.

The debt ceiling must be raised by Oct. 1 to avoid a government shutdown, and a potential default on payments, including debt, later in the month.

“What we’ve done is basically committed ourselves to two weeks of worry,” said Sam Stovall, chief equity strategist at S&P Capital IQ.

The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 185.46 points, or 1.2 percent, to close at 15,451.09 — 225 points below its all-time closing high reached Wednesday after the Fed’s announcement.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 12.43 points, or 0.7 percent, to 1,709.91. The Nasdaq composite fell 14.66 points, or 0.4 percent, to 3,774.73.

All 10 industry groups in the S&P 500 fell, led lower by telecom companies and utilities. The S&P also fell on Thursday, making this its first two-day decline in almost three weeks.

Until now, September defied the worriers. The stock market has bounced backed from an August swoon, despite a calendar loaded with potential rally killers.

Fears of a conflict with Syria have faded, and Wall Street cheered when Larry Summers withdrew his name as a candidate to replace Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke.

Summers, a former Treasury secretary, was viewed as being more likely to rein in the Fed’s massive stimulus program, which has kept interest rates low and boosted corporate profits.

As Middle East strife recedes from investors’ minds, though, fears of budget gridlock grow.

“Geopolitics ... is much lower on the list. It’s not off the list” of investor worries, said David Darst, chief investment strategist for Morgan Stanley Wealth Management. “No. 1 becomes the debt ceiling and the federal spending debate.”

In corporate news, BlackBerry plunged $1.79, or 17 percent, to $8.72 on the Nasdaq after announcing a loss of nearly $1 billion and layoffs of 4,500 workers. The company’s phones have been eclipsed by phones from Apple and Samsung.

Apple fell $4.89, or 1 percent, to close at $467.40 as its newest iPhone debuted at stores.

Darden, the struggling parent of Olive Garden and Red Lobster, fell $3.52, or 7 percent, to $45.78 after posting a much lower quarterly profit and saying its president and chief operating officer will retire. Sales fell at its two flagship restaurant chains despite efforts to renew menus and advertising.

Two new stocks had strong debuts. Tech security company FireEye surged $16, or 80 percent, at end at $36, and artificial intelligence company Rocket Fuel rose $27, or 93 percent, to $56.10.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.74 percent, from 2.76 percent on Thursday.



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