April 19 - Summary of business headlines: Stocks decline as economic data points to softening recovery; Microsoft, Verizon, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America exceed analysts’ forecasts; IMF Chief says Europe not only dark cloud threatening global economy. Conway G. Gittens reports.
Stocks closed lower for the second day in a row after searching for direction for most of the session. After the close, Microsoft beat sales and profit targets thanks to strength from its flagship Windows software. Earlier, Verizon exceeded forecasts with wireless customers willing to spend more on data plans as they switch to smartphones. Bank of America is doing better as it works through the mortgage mess created during the financial crisis. And Morgan Stanley beat The Street as investments in its fixed-income trading business finally pay off. But it was the economy that was behind the Wall Street sell-off. Jobless claims saw only a small drop last week, suggesting a jobs recovery that stalled in March continues to stall in April; Manufacturing activity in the Mid-Atlantic states slowed severely this month; while sales of previously owned homes dropped last month. Europe and its debt crisis is high on the agenda as International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde prepares for this weekend's semi-annual gathering of the IMF and World Bank. But the euro zone is not the only "dark cloud" hovering over the global economy. SOUNDBITE: CHRISTINE LAGARDE, MANAGING DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND (ENGLISH) SAYING: "If we look at, for instance, the emerging markets, they too have to address some of the issues, and they too have to be very attentive to a volatile market situation. And that means, clearly, for some of these emerging markets, refocusing on their domestic growth - and not only based on investment, but also drawing on consumption, which means significant in-depth reforms at home." And home - is where the worries were for Wall Street with blue chips falling back below the 13,000 mark. In Europe, nervous investors dumped French shares ahead of presidential elections, but stocks were down across the region, as well. Conway Gittens, Reuters