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Stocks close lower; Home sales decline again; Caterpillar (CAT) builds profits; Royal Caribbean (RCL) cruises, despite new outbreak

Hot Stock Minute

Stocks finshed the day lower today. Thanks to a last minute fall before the closing bell the Dow Industrials (^DJI) finished the day 41 points lower, closing at 15,838. The Nasdaq (^IXIC) lost more than 44 points ending the day at 4,084, and the S&P 500 (^GSPC) shed almost 9 points to finish the session at 1,782.

Early enthusiasm was tempered by ongoing concerns about emerging markets and disappointing news on the housing market. Home sales for December came in lower than expected at a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 414,000. That was down from November’s revised sales of 445,000 units and below analysts’ estimates of 457,000. December’s sales marked the second-consecutive monthly decline, but followed a surprisingly large 14.9% jump in October.

Caterpillar (CAT) was one bright spot on the Dow after the company announced better-than-expected earnings and revenue before the opening bell. The company cost-cut its way to higher profits and said it expects 2014 sales to level off after a 16% decline in 2013. The heavy-equipment maker also announced plans for a $10 billion stock repurchase plan to run through 2018.

Royal Caribbean (RCL) swung to a profit in the fourth quarter on stronger on-board sales and last minute bookings. The company reported earnings per share of $0.23, which beat estimates of $0.18 a share. Revenue rose 2.7% and CEO Richard Fain said the outlook for 2014 “is looking highly promising.” The better-than expected results came on the same day the company announced it cut short a 10-day cruise on the Explorer of the Seas. More than 600 passengers and crew members came down with an as yet unidentified gastrointestinal illness. The Centers for Disease Control is investigating.

After the bell today, all eyes will be on Apple (AAPL) earnings. Investors are hoping for the results to be bolstered by strong sales of the iPhone in China based on the company’s new deal with China’s largest carrier, China Mobile.

Tomorrow morning, Dow component, Pfizer (PFE), along with Ford (F) and Comcast (CMCSA) are expected to report.