US STOCKS-Wall St drops on uncertainty about Fed stimulus
* Durable goods orders rise more than expected
* P&G shares climb after CEO replacement
* Some retailers' stocks weak after results
* Dow off 0.3 pct, S&P 500 off 0.5 pct, Nasdaq off 0.5 pct
By Leah Schnurr
NEW YORK, May 24 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks fell for a third day on Friday, putting indexes on track for their first negative week since mid-April, on lingering concern the U.S. central bank may scale back its support to the economy.
Trading has been choppy in the second half of the week as market participants assess the Federal Reserve's evolving stance toward markets. The Fed's stimulus measures have been instrumental in a rally that has driven U.S. stocks to record highs this year.
"We've had some volatility this week that we really haven't experienced in a month or so, so it's got a little bit of uncertainty here," said Joe Bell, a senior equity analyst at Schaeffer's Investment Research in Cincinnati.
Friday may also be a natural time for investors to take profits heading into the long weekend, with markets closed on Monday for the Memorial Day holiday, Bell said.
Even as there is some fear that the Fed will exit too soon, many analysts say the eventual tapering of the central bank's stimulus will come with an expansion of the economy and corporate earnings, which will continue to support equities.
"A lot of people have only been giving the Fed credit for this rally and not been talking about some of the improvement in the labor market or housing data," Bell said.
"The economy in general has been on a lot better footing than perhaps people have given it credit for."
The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 48.07 points, or 0.31 percent, to 15,246.43. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index dropped 7.91 points, or 0.48 percent, to 1,642.60. The Nasdaq Composite Index dropped 17.00 points, or 0.49 percent, to 3,442.42.
The three major U.S. stock indexes were on track to post their first negative week in five.
Procter & Gamble shares rose 3.8 percent to $81.68 after the world's largest household products maker brought back A.G. Lafley as chief executive Thursday, replacing Bob McDonald in the midst of a major restructuring.
Abercrombie & Fitch was the S&P 500's biggest loser after the teen clothing retailer cut its profit forecast and said quarterly comparable sales fell 15 percent, which it blamed in part on inventory shortages. Its stock lost 10.7 percent to $48.54.
Shares of Sears Holdings tumbled 15.8 percent to $49 after the U.S. retailer reported a bigger-than-expected quarterly loss on Thursday. Sears said cooler spring weather hurt its results.
Overall, the U.S. stock market's pullbacks have been short and shallow since November as traders have taken any weakness as an opportunity to increase long positions.
Since Wednesday, the markets have been focused on the possibility that the Fed's $85 billion per month in bond purchases will be scaled back later this year, in the wake of recent congressional testimony by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and the minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee's latest meeting.
The minutes showed a degree of fracture among the FOMC's members "in terms of the approach moving forward, specifically the time frame" of the unwinding of the Fed's stimulus efforts, said Peter Kenny, chief market strategist at Knight Capital in Jersey City, New Jersey.
Futures briefly pared losses earlier after the Commerce Department said durable goods orders rose 3.3 percent last month, exceeding expectations for an increase of 1.5 percent. Previous readings for orders were revised to show a smaller decline in March than previously estimated.