U.S. stocks decline before employment data amid earnings reports

U.S. stocks declined, after the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rallied to a record, as investors awaited tomorrow’s employment data to assess the strength of the economy and watched corporate earning reports.

Homebuilders slumped 2.1% as a group amid a report showing existing-home sales declined for the first time in three months. Halliburton Co. dropped 2.9% as revenue fell short of forecasts. Apple Inc. rose 2.5% as Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook will likely introduce a high- definition iPad mini and thinner iPad tomorrow. General Electric Co. gained 2.5% to the highest level since 2008. VF Corp. and Hasbro Inc. climbed at least 3.3% on better-than- estimated earnings.

The S&P 500 lost 0.1% to 1,742.29 at 2:49 p.m. in New York. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 15.13 points, or 0.1%, to 15,384.52. Trading in S&P 500 stocks was 4.4% below the 30-day average during this time of day.

“People do want to lighten up a bit in front of” tomorrow’s jobs report, Matt Maley, an equity strategist with Miller Tabak + Co. said in an interview from Boston. The market “is pretty extended, so it would actually be healthy if we took a breather before it tried to move higher from current levels.”

The S&P 500 had its best weekly gain since July last week as results from Google Inc. topped estimates and speculation grew that the Federal Reserve will delay cutting monetary stimulus. The index has gained 3.6% so far in October as Congress agreed on a new federal budget that avoided a default and ended the first partial government shutdown in 17 years.

New Highs

The benchmark measure has advanced 22% this year as Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke refrained from reducing $85 billion of monthly bond purchases to stimulate the economy.

The Labor Department will tomorrow release the September jobs report, which was delayed from its original Oct. 4 date because of the 16-day partial federal shutdown that ended Oct. 17. The data will probably show employers added 180,000 workers in September, the most since April, after a 169,000 gain in August, according to the median estimate of 93 economists surveyed by Bloomberg.

Money has been flowing in and out of financial markets more rapidly than ever before this year, a bullish signal as the threat of a U.S. sovereign default fades.

Since Sept. 1, about $47 billion has gone to exchange- traded funds that track everything from stocks to bonds to commodities, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That followed $18 billion pulled in August, $40 billion added in July and $11 billion pulled in June, making it the most volatile period on record for flows. Almost $7 billion went to ETFs on Oct. 17 alone.

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