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Stocks pull back from highs as investors start to get picky

| Friday, May 10, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

NEW YORK — The stock market pulled back from record levels Thursday as investors became harder to please.

Even a decline in the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits failed to give stock prices a boost. Markets drifted lower in early trading, fluctuated between gains and losses in the afternoon, then ended slightly lower.

Unemployment claims dropped to a five-year low last week, the Labor Department reported early Thursday. That signals fewer layoffs and possibly more hiring.

While the report failed to boost stocks, it did give the dollar a lift. The U.S. currency climbed against most major currencies and traded above 100 yen for the first time in more than four years. The Japanese currency has weakened dramatically this year due to the Bank of Japan's massive monetary stimulus.

An improvement in hiring at U.S. employers has been one of the key factors that pushed stocks up to record levels. The Dow Jones industrial average climbed above 15,000 for the first time Tuesday and is on track to notch six straight months of gains. The Standard and Poor's 500 index closed at a record high Wednesday.

The bar for economic news and corporate earnings has risen as stock prices have marched higher, said JJ Kinahan, chief derivative strategist at TD Ameritrade. “You have to beat by a lot to really move the market higher,” Kinahan said.

Rising corporate earnings, another key support for the stock market, were also in focus on Thursday.

Tesla Motors soared $13.61, or 24 percent, to $69.40, after the electric car maker posted its first quarterly net profit since it was founded a decade ago. Green Mountain Coffee Roasters surged $16.56, or 27.8 percent, to $76.04 after the company reported late Wednesday that its net income rose 42 percent. It also raised its earnings forecast for the full year.

Monster Beverage, the maker of energy drinks, fell $2.96, or 5 percent, to $54.01, after it reported net income that fell short of analysts' estimates. The company's profits fell 17 percent, despite stronger sales, because of unfavorable currency rates, legal expenses and costs tied to distribution agreements.

Almost 90 percent of the companies in the S&P 500 index have reported earnings for the first quarter. Earnings are projected to rise 5 percent for the period and continue climbing throughout the year, according to S&P Capital IQ.

The Dow fell 22.5 points, or 0.2 percent, to 15,082.62. The S&P 500 index dropped 6.02 points, or 0.4 percent, to 1,626.67.

So far, markets have defied expectations for a slowdown heading into the summer.

The S&P 500 index has started the second quarter well, gaining 1.8 percent so far in the period. The index has declined in the second quarter in each of the past three years. Stocks slumped last year in the May-through-June period as Europe's debt crisis intensified, and in 2011 they dipped as wrangling in Washington pushed the U.S. to the brink of default.

“The market has had a phenomenal run,” said Ron Florance, managing director of investment strategy at Wells Fargo Private Bank. “We'll have to see how the second quarter plays out.”

In government bond trading, the yield on the 10-year note continued to rise, climbing to 1.82 percent from 1.77 percent on Wednesday. The yield, which moves inversely to the bond's price, has risen sharply since early Friday, when it traded as low as 1.63 percent, its lowest level of the year.

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