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Stocks Fall on Economic Unease

U.S. retail sector down 0.2 percent.

U.S. retail stocks posted a modest decline, falling 0.2 percent, as investors waivered in the face of weak economic signals from around the globe.

The S&P Retail Index declined 1.43 points to 665.66 as the Dow Jones Industrial Average staged rallied back from earlier declines to close up 0.1 percent, or 18.97 points, to 13,596.93.

Shares of J.C. Penney Co. Inc. fell 11.2 percent to $25.83 as investors bet on market reaction to an update from chief executive officer Ron Johnson. Shares briefly spiked 12 percent Wednesday as Johnson expanded on his vision for the chain, which has seen its business drop off dramatically as it transforms into a specialty department store concept.

Also declining were Sears Holdings Corp., down 6.7 percent to $57.46; The Bon-Ton Stores Inc., 5.6 percent to $10.78, and Iconix Brand Group Inc., 4.6 percent to $18.33.

Markets fell in Europe. The FTSE MIB in Milan was hit the hardest, closing down 1.7 percent to 15,830.28, while the CAC 40 in Paris fell 0.6 percent to 3,509.92. The FTSE 100 in London closed down 0.6 percent to 5,854.64, while the DAX in Frankfurt slipped just 0.02 percent to 7,389.49. Negative economic data from both China and Japan weighed on investors.

Japan said imports and exports had both declined during August, and a manufacturing index from China showed that manufacturing activity slowed in September for the eleventh consecutive month. And Markit’s euro zone Purchasing Managers’ Index showed the area’s output fell to 45.9 in September from 46.3 in August. The survey indicated that the euro zone’s private sector had contracted in September at its fastest rate since June 2009.

Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit, said: “We had hoped that the news regarding the [European Central Bank’s] intervention to alleviate the debt crisis would have lifted business confidence, but instead sentiment appears to have taken a turn for the worse, with businesses the most gloomy since early 2009, due to ongoing headwinds from slower global growth.”

It was a mostly downbeat day for fashion, luxury and retail stocks. The decliners included Safilo Group, down 4.2 percent to 5.88 euros; Yoox, 2.2 percent to 10.03 euros; Burberry, slid 2.2 percent to 10.37 pounds, and Richemont, 1.6 percent to 60.20 Swiss francs.

Among the few risers were Inditex, up 1.8 percent to 97 euros; Marks & Spencer, 1 percent to 3.71 pounds, and Hermès International, up 0.5 percent to 217.05 euros.

The pound traded for $1.62 against the dollar, while the euro went for $1.30 and the Swiss franc for $1.08.