Stocks down again as Ukraine rhetoric intensifies

NEW YORK - A downturn in U.S. stocks deepened Thursday afternoon as rhetoric between the U.S. and Russia over the conflict in Ukraine intensified. The decline put the Dow Jones industrial average on the path for its fourth loss in a row.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 21 points, or 1.2 percent, to 1,846 as of 1:08 p.m. Eastern Time. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 202 points, or 1.2 percent, to 16,137. The Nasdaq composite dropped 69 points, or 1.6 percent, to 4,254.

PRESIDENTIAL WARNING: President Barack Obama said Thursday that if Russia continues an aggressive path in Ukraine, the United States and other countries will be "forced to apply costs" to Moscow. Obama made his remarks after meeting with Ukraine's new prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, at the White House.

DRILL BIT: Several companies that provide oil and gas offshore drilling services fell. Diamond Offshore Drilling fell $2.41, or 5.2 percent, to $43.98, while Noble shed $1.59, or 5.2 percent, to $28.76. Transocean lost $1.54, or 3.8 percent, to $39.25, and National Oilwell Varco slid $2.74, or 3.5 percent, to $74.57.

MARKED DOWN: Dollar General fell $1.79, or 3 percent, to $57.50 after the company reported that its fourth-quarter earnings took a hit from harsh winter storms. It also issued a poor outlook for the year.

WORK IT: Shares of clothing company PVH, which owns brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, declined after Morgan Stanley downgraded the company, concluding that PVH will have to increase spending on advertising due to competition. PVH fell $5.93, or 4.9 percent, to $116.10.

SECTOR WATCH: Nine of the 10 sectors in the S&P 500 index fell. Information technology lost the most. Utilities bucked the trend. Investors tend to buy those stocks when they want to play it safe with lower-risk companies than pay steady dividends.

RETAIL REBOUND: U.S. retail sales rose 0.3 percent in February as Americans spent more on autos, clothing and furniture, the Commerce Department reported. Spending had fallen 0.6 percent in January. The increase suggests that spending has started to recover after being tempered by snowstorms and freezing temperatures that blanketed much of the country.

HEALTHIER JOB MARKET: Applications for unemployment benefits dropped 9,000 last week to 315,000. Applications are a rough proxy for layoffs. The declines indicate companies are confident enough about the economy to keep their staffs. Employers are hiring more after harsh winter weather lowered job gains in January and December.

ON THEIR MINDS: Despite the positive retail sales and labor market reports, investors remain concerned about the course of China's economy and the possibility of a broader fallout from the conflict in Ukraine, said Michael Levine, a portfolio manager at Oppenheimer Funds.

"Those two things are tempering enthusiasm right now," he said.

DUES INCREASE: Amazon gained $3.66, or 1 percent, to $374.30 after the company raised the price of its popular Prime membership to $99 per year, an increase of $20. It was the first price increase since the online retailer introduced its Prime membership program, which includes two-day free shipping on many products, in 2005.

POWERING UP: Plug Power reported revenue jumped to $8 million as the alternative energy company lined up some big clients. The news caused its shares to vault 82 cents, or 11.9 percent, to $7.61. The stock has been rising in recent weeks.

BOND CRAVING: The yield on the 10-year Treasury note tumbled to 2.66 percent from 2.73 percent late Wednesday as bond prices rose. The yield affects rates on mortgages and other consumer loans.

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