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Stocks end lower ahead of critical Ukraine vote

By: alex veiga The Associated Press
March 14, 2014 Updated: March 14, 2014 at 4:05 pm

Stock investors started the week worrying about China. They ended it waiting on Russia.

Investors spent much of Friday monitoring developments in the Ukraine's region of Crimea, where residents will vote Sunday on whether to secede to Russia. The U.S. and European Union have vowed to impose sanctions on Russia as early as Monday if Moscow moves to annex Crimea.

The uncertainty mostly stalled major stock indexes, which moved between small gains and losses through much of the day. Many investors took a cautious approach, turning to lower-risk stocks like utilities.

All told, the Dow Jones industrial average slid 43.22 points, or 0.3 percent, to end at 16,065.67. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 5.21 points, or 0.3 percent, to close at 1,841.13. The Nasdaq composite dropped 15.02 points, or 0.4 percent, to finish at 4,245.40.

Even so, the S&P 500 index ended the week down less than 2 percent from a record high reached the previous Friday. And it remains just slightly in the red for the year.

"The market is still pretty close to all-time highs. I think that speaks volumes," said Karyn Cavanaugh, a senior market strategist with ING U.S. Investment Management. "The market hasn't been rattled severely by what's been going on this week, therefore I think next week I'd probably expect a similar reaction."

In government bond trading, the yield on the 10-year Treasury note was little changed from late Thursday at 2.65 percent.

Despite the Dow posting its fifth loss in five days, the market regained some of its footing from a day earlier, when the three major indexes lost more than 1 percent - the worst day for the market in six weeks. Thursday's decline was a sharp contrast to the relatively quiet trading Monday through Wednesday.

Discussions between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Friday set the mood heading into the weekend. Despite six hours of talks, the two sides had "no common vision," for the crisis in Ukraine, Lavrov said.

He told reporters that Russia has no plans to invade southeastern Ukraine.

But if Crimea secedes, the U.S. and European Union plan to slap sanctions on Russian officials and businesses accused of escalating the crisis and undermining Ukraine's new government.

The impact of sanctions on Russia would likely affect the energy sector and oil in particular, said Jonathan Corpina, senior managing partner at Median Equity Partners.

"Any sanctions, if they get to that level, are going to have a major effect in all areas," he said.

Russia is the world's eighth largest economy. Its oil and gas exports make up roughly a quarter of its GDP.

Escalating tension in Ukraine is the latest development in a volatile year for the stock market. Severe winter weather has hurt corporate earnings and stoked doubts about the strength of the U.S. economy. Concerns over emerging markets battered stocks at the end of January. And in recent weeks, discouraging data on the Chinese economy have added to investors' concerns.

That's a stark shift from last year, when the market enjoyed a surge of 30 percent and slightly more, if dividends are included.

"The ride this year will be bumpier than last year," said Jim Dunigan, managing executive of investments at The PNC Financial Services Group. "Coming off a market of plus 32 percent last year, it's not surprising the difficulty to gain any traction here."

Still, Cavanaugh of ING U.S. Investment Management, said investors know that fundamentals are "solid."

She noted that corporate earnings are good at 8.5 percent growth in the fourth quarter versus a year earlier.

Beyond the action in Ukraine, investors also will have a dose of U.S. housing data and an update from Fed Chair Janet Yellen in the mix next week. Fed policymakers are expected to continue scaling back the central bank's stimulus.

On Friday several stocks posted gains.

Keurig jumped $7.09, or nearly 7 percent, to $113.25 after Starbucks said Friday that it has agreed to give up its right to be the only provider of premium coffee for Keurig's coffee brewing machines. That opens the door for Keurig to offer other high-quality coffee brands in single-serving packages.

Ulta Salon, Cosmetics & Fragrances vaulted $5.75, or 6.4 percent, to $95.26. The beauty products retailer reported a nearly 10 percent increase in its fourth-quarter profit thanks to improved sales.

Among the decliners was retailer Aeropostale, which fell $1.47, or 20 percent, to $5.83 after reporting a wider loss late Thursday. The operator of clothing stores for teenagers also warned of tough times ahead.

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