NEW YORK -- Stocks finished mixed yesterday amid concern about an economic report indicating that consumer confidence was beginning to falter.
"The drop in consumer confidence is the first bad economic news we've seen in quite a while," said Thom Brown, managing director at Rutherford, Brown & Catherwood.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 19.72 points, to 3,323.27, led by declines in Disney, Sears and General Motors. The NASDAQ index of smaller stocks continued to slump, losing 0.86, to 651.56, its lowest close since Dec. 16.
But advancing stocks exceeded declining issues on the New York Stock Exchange by a slim margin.
Stocks began to fall after the Conference Board, a nonprofit business research group, reported that its measure of consumer confidence dropped to 68.5 in February, from 76.7 in January, as optimism aboutthe economic recovery waned.
"People are concerned that President Clinton, in his economic package, isn't taking a bigger ax to federal spending in his effort to lower the budget deficit," said James Solloway, research director at Argus Research.
"The loss in consumer confidence, and particularly the sharp decline in expectations, is disconcerting," said Fabian Linden, executive director of the Conference Board's Consumer Research Center.
The yield on the benchmark 30-year Treasury bond fell below 6.9 percent for the first time since 1977.
Low rates are the stock market's "best friend right now," said Richard Meyer, head of institutional trading at Ladenburg, Thalmann & Co.
When bond yields are low, investors typically move money into stocks in pursuit of higher returns.
But the slide in bond yields did little to help the stock market yesterday. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 0.44, to 434.80; the New York Stock Exchange Composite index declined 0.15, to 239.37; but the American Stock Exchange Market Value index rose 0.67, to 399.96.