U.S. Markets closed

Stocks edge lower after manufacturing growth slows

Steve Rothwell, AP Markets Writer

Specialist Thomas Facchine, second from right, directs trades in Metro PCS at the close of trading on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Tuesday, April 30, 2013. Asian stock markets fell Wednesday May 1, 2013 in holiday-thinned trading after the pace of China's manufacturing growth slowed in April, raising fears of a weaker recovery in the world's second-largest economy. Shares in other regions were poised to post gains, however. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

NEW YORK (AP) -- More evidence of a slowing economy pulled the stock market lower early Wednesday.

U.S. factory activity in April dropped to its slowest pace this year as manufacturers pulled back on hiring and cut stockpiles, according to a key survey. Companies added just 119,000 jobs in April, the fewest in seven months, said payroll processor ADP.

The Dow fell 75 points, or 0.5 percent, to 14,765 as of 10:17 a.m. Eastern time. The S&P 500 index, a broader market measure, dropped six points to 1,589, a decline of 0.6 percent.

Investors are waiting for news from the Federal Reserve, which will publish a statement later Wednesday. The Fed is widely expected to stick with its aggressive effort to stimulate the economy by keeping borrowing costs down and encouraging spending. That stimulus has helped push stocks to record levels this year. The Dow has now risen for five straight months and the S&P 500 for six.

Company earnings were also in the spotlight Wednesday.

Drugmaker Merck & Co. fell $1.30, or 2.8 percent, to $45.70 after it cut its 2013 profit forecast. The company said competition from generic versions of its drugs and unfavorable exchange rates hurt its profit.

MasterCard eased $9.14, or 1.7 percent, to $543.70 after the payments processing company reported that revenue missed the expectations of financial analysts who cover the firm.

About two thirds of companies in the S&P 500 index have announced earnings for the first quarter.

The quarterly earnings are at record levels, and about seven of 10 companies have topped forecasts of Wall Street analysts, according to S&P Capital IQ data. Revenues have disappointed, though, with about six of 10 companies falling short of expectations. That suggests companies are raising profits through cutting costs rather than boosting revenues.

"From here on out, this market expansion story from cost-cutting, it's hard to believe it's going to continue much longer," said Savita Subramanian, head of U.S. equity and quantitative strategy at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. "We need some kind of top-line or demand recovery. If we don't see that, then the equity market is toast."

Government spending cuts will likely slow economic growth in the current quarter, according to the investment bank arm of Bank of America. Growth will pick up toward the end of the year, helped by the housing market's recovery.

Among other stocks making big moves, home security company ADT fell $1.74, or 4 percent, to $41.90 after its profit didn't live up to analysts' hopes.

The Nasdaq composite index dropped seven points, or 0.2 percent, to 3,322.

In government bond trading, demand for the 10-year Treasury note rose, pushing down its yield to 1.64 percent from 1.67 percent. The yield is at its lowest of the year.

Markets in Europe were closed for the May Day holiday.