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U.S. stocks retreat as investors consider Fed stimulus, Syria

By Bloomberg News

NEW YORK — U.S. stocks fell Thursday, halting a seven-day win streak for the Standard & Poor's 500 index, as materials producers slid amid growing concern over Syria and investors weighed the prospects for Federal Reserve stimulus cuts.

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Barrick Gold dropped 5.5 percent as the precious metal slumped the most since July. Newmont Mining, the largest U.S. gold producer, lost 4.2 percent. Lululemon Athletica tumbled 5.4 percent after cutting its earnings forecast. Walt Disney rallied 2.4 percent after saying it would buy back as much as $8 billion in shares. Pandora Media jumped 12 percent to a record after naming digital-advertising veteran Brian McAndrews as its new chief executive officer.

The S&P 500 fell 0.3 percent to 1,683.42, snapping the longest streak of gains since July. The Dow Jones industrial average slipped 25.96 points, or 0.2 percent, to 15,300.64. About 5.7 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, 4 percent below the three-month average.

The S&P 500 rallied 3.4 percent in September through Wednesday, rebounding from the worst monthly loss since May 2012, as reports showed China's economy has strengthened and the U.S. looked less likely to attack Syria.

The tensions increased Thursday as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told top Syrian opposition figures in a phone call that the option of a U.S. military strike remains on the table, according to a State Department official. Kerry arrived in Geneva for talks with his Russian counterpart on a proposal for Syria to surrender its chemical weapons.

Syrian President Bashar Assad set conditions for the United States, saying a deal must be a "two-way street" in which the Obama administration drops its military threats and stops arming Syrian rebels.

The tensions over Syria have competed for investor attention with concern about reductions in Fed stimulus. Investors have been scrutinizing economic data to determine whether growth is robust enough for the Federal Open Market Committee to pare back its monthly bond buying following its Sept. 17-18 meeting.

A report Thursday showed jobless claims in the United States declined last week to the lowest level since April 2006 as upgrades to computer systems in two states caused those employment agencies to report fewer applications.

"We're going to ignore the report given the Labor Day holiday and this computer problem which calls into question the efficacy of the data," said Phil Orlando, New York-based chief equity strategist at Federated Investors, which manages about $380 billion in assets.

Economists estimate the Fed this month will taper its stimulus by $10 billion a month, to $75 billion, according to the median of 34 responses in a Bloomberg News survey. The purchases have helped the S&P 500 rally as much as 153 percent since the beginning of the bull market in March 2009.

The CBOE Volatility Index, the gauge of S&P 500 options prices known as the VIX, rose 3.4 percent to 14.29. The equity volatility gauge has tumbled 16 percent in September after rallying 26 percent in August, the biggest monthly gain since May 2012. The index moves in the opposite direction to the S&P 500 about 80 percent of the time.

Gauges of materials producers and financial companies fell the most among the 10 main industry groups in the S&P 500 on Thursday.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. slid 1.9 percent to $52.24 for the worst performance in the Dow. The bank may settle regulators' probes into the bank's credit-card debt collection practices and sales of identity-theft products as early as next week, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.

Silver dropped the most in nine weeks and gold touched a four-week low as a report showed euro-area industrial output contracted more than analysts estimated in July. Copper declined to a one-month low.

Barrick Gold, the largest miner of the metal, slipped 5.5 percent to $17.61 as gold futures for December delivery dropped 2.4 percent for the biggest drop for a most-active contract since July 5. Newmont decreased 4.2 percent to $28.23.

Cliffs Natural Resources, the largest U.S. iron-ore producer, slumped 5.2 percent to $22.42 for the biggest drop in the benchmark index for American equities.

Lululemon retreated 5.4 percent to $65.29. The yogawear retailer searching for a new chief executive officer cut its profit forecast as new rivals enter its market and shoppers cut spending on clothing. Earnings per share will be as much as $1.97, down from a previous projection of a maximum of $2.01, the Vancouver-based company said. The average of 29 analysts' estimates compiled by Bloomberg was $1.99.

Disney jumped 2.4 percent to $65.49, the most in the Dow. The world's biggest entertainment company plans to start the repurchase plan next year. The company will borrow to finance some of the buys, Chief Financial Officer Jay Rasulo said.

Pandora Media surged 12 percent to $23.97, the highest close since the stock began trading in June 2011. The biggest online radio service hired McAndrews in a push to lift revenue while fending off competition from Apple. The executive was also named chairman and president, succeeding Joe Kennedy.

Phone stocks were the only group among 10 in the S&P 500 to advance, rallying 1 percent. AT&T jumped 1.2 percent to $34.38 and Verizon Communications rose 1.8 percent to $47.35 to pace gains among Dow companies.

Verizon produced a profit for investors of about $2.09 billion for agreeing to buy the record $49 billion of bonds it sold Wednesday as the price of the securities surged. The debt sale topped Apple's $17 billion offering in April and will help pay for the company's planned $130 billion purchase of Vodafone Group's stake in Verizon Wireless.

Vertex Pharmaceuticals, a developer of small-molecule pharmaceuticals, rose 2 percent to $81.40, and Ametek, a manufacturer of electronic instruments, added 2.6 percent to $45.57. S&P Dow Jones Indices said the two companies will join the S&P 500, replacing Advanced Micro Devices and SAIC.

AMD dropped 1.8 percent to $3.75 and SAIC added 1.3 percent to $14.96.