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US: Wall Street falls in choppy day; traders wary before earnings

[NEW YORK] US stocks fell in choppy trading on Monday, with traders nervously eyeing the start of earnings season, while the S&P 500 failed to remain above a key technical level.

With top economic indicators, including payrolls, out of the way, equities had little in the way of catalysts. The recent strength in the US dollar and continued weakness in the European economy cast a shadow over the earnings season that is about to begin. "Markets are reflecting nervousness around third-quarter earnings given the strong dollar and a very weak macro environment in Europe," said Jim Russell, senior equity strategist for US Bank Wealth Management, which manages US$120 billion in assets out of in Cincinnati. "It is very possible that estimate cuts are in front of us,"he said.

Micron shares fell 4 per cent to US$32.57 after Samsung unveiled plans to spend US$14.7 billion on a new semiconductor facility.

Hewlett-Packard posted the S&P 500's largest gains, up 4.7 per cent to US$36.87 after it said it would split into two listed companies and eliminate another 5,000 jobs.

GT Advanced Technologies, Apple's partner in a sapphire glass plant in Arizona, said it had filed for voluntary bankruptcy protection and its shares tumbled 92.8 per cent to 80 US cents.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 17.78 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 16,991.91, the S&P 500 lost 3.08 points, or 0.16 per cent, to 1,964.82 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 20.82 points, or 0.47 per cent, to 4,454.80.

The S&P 500 was unable to hold above 1,975, "which is proving to be a real resistance point," said Ken Polcari, director of the NYSE floor division at O'Neil Securities in New York.

The benchmark's 50-day moving average stands just below 1,975 and it has closed below that average for five straight sessions.

About 6.3 billion shares changed hands on US exchanges, below the 7.2 billion average for the last five sessions, according to data from BATS Global Markets.

The largest percentage gainer on the New York Stock Exchange was CareFusion, up 22.9 per cent after medical equipment supplier Becton Dickinson agreed to buy it for US$12.2 billion in cash and stock.

On the Nasdaq, a top mover was also related to an acquisition, with Durata Therapeutics up 74.6 per cent to US$24.24. Actavis said it would buy Durata for about US$675 million.

Among the most active stocks on the NYSE were Petrobras , up 14.24 per cent to US$15.96 and Bank of America, up 0.06 per cent to US$17.30.

On the Nasdaq, Sunesis Pharmaceuticals, down 76.4 per cent to US$1.57, joined GT Advanced Tech and Micron among the most heavily traded.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 1,676 to 1,383, for a 1.21-to-1 ratio on the upside; on the Nasdaq, 1,612 issues fell and 1,044 advanced for a 1.54-to-1 ratio favoring decliners. - Reuters