Stocks Started Lower on Downbeat Overseas Data

U.S. stocks started with declines on Thursday, after economic reports showing contractions in manufacturing in Europe and China. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lately fell 51.08 points to 13,073.54. The S&P 500 Index shed 7.43 points to 1,395.46. The Nasdaq Composite declined 9.88 points to 3,065.44.

Weaker-than-expected purchasing managers’ index readings from France and Germany on Thursday pointed to an accelerated contraction in private -sector activity across the euro zone, highlighting fears the region slipped into and remains in a recession. The Markit composite purchasing managers’ index, or PMI, fell to a three-month low of 48.7 from 49.3 in February. The services index edged down to 48.7 from 48.78 in February, while manufacturing PMI fell to 47.7 from 49.0. A reading of less than 50 indicates a contraction in activity.

Chinese factory activity is slowing sharply, dragging on employment amid a deepening slowdown in global demand and aggravated by a stall in domestic consumption, according to March survey data showing new orders at a four-month low. A preliminary reading of HSBC’s manufacturing purchasing managers’ index for March, released Thursday, printed at 48.1 on a 100-point scale, down from a final reading of 49.6 in February.

The number of Americans claiming new unemployment benefits dropped to a four-year low last week. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 348,000, the lowest level since February 2008, the Labor Department said on Thursday.

Wealthy taxpayers would see a big jump in their tax bills under President Obama’s latest budget proposal, according to a new independent analysis. In fact, those in the top 1% of income would see an average tax increase of nearly $109,000 in 2015, according to the Tax Policy Center.

FedEx says its profit from December through February more than doubled on higher package volume and prices at its ground and freight segments.
In its fiscal third quarter, the company earned $521 million or $1.65 per share, compared with $231 million, or 73 cents per share, a year earlier. Revenue rose 9 percent to $10.56 billion.

Brent crude oil dropped more than $1 a barrel on Thursday, after weak Chinese and European manufacturing data sparked fears that slowing growth could dent global energy demand. Brent crude fell $1.08 to $123.12 a barrel by 0938 GMT, after settling 8 cents up at $124.20 a barrel on Wednesday.

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