NEW YORK -- Skittishness about the presidential election and signs that the economy remains sluggish drove stocks lower yesterday.
"People are cleaning up the books ahead of the election," said John Schraff, a trader at Daiwa Securities America. "It's getting too close to call."
The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 19.99, to 3,226.28, after bumping up against a recent high of 3,250. For the week, the Dow gained 18.64 points.
The latest Newsweek/Gallup poll of likely voters showed President Bush trailing Gov. Bill Clinton by 39 percent to 41 percent, a smaller gap than previous polls have shown. Other polls, however, show Mr. Clinton with a lead of several percentage points over Mr. Bush. The election is Tuesday.
"Although the market's watching the polls closely, nobody's putting any big bets on them," said Kenneth Ducey, director of trading at BT Brokerage.
A spate of discouraging economic reports also drove stocks lower. The Commerce Department said sales of new single-family houses fell 1 percent in September. Separately, the University of Michigan's consumer sentiment index dropped to 73.3 in October, from 75.6 in September.
Reflecting the soft economy, R.H. Macy reported a loss of $1.25 billion for the year, including $263 million in charges stemming from a reorganization and proceedings under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
The Standard & Poor's 500 declined 2.19, to 418.67, while the NASDAQ Composite Index fell 0.66, to 605.16.
Advancers and decliners were about even, with 757 stocks rising and 736 falling on the New York Stock Exchange. Trading picked up toward the end of the session, to total about 198 million shares.
"There's no compelling reason to get in there and do some buying," said Jack Solomon, a market analyst at Bear Stearns.