* Oracle shares slide after weak results
* U.S. existing home sales rise
* Jobless claims up for week, but falling 4-week average on
* Dow off 0.5 pct; S&P 500 off 0.7 pct, Nasdaq off 0.9 pct
By Caroline Valetkevitch
NEW YORK, March 21 U.S. stocks declined on
Thursday, dragged down by concerns about euro-zone growth and
Oracle's sharp miss on quarterly results, which weighed on tech
Worries about Cypriot finances increased after the European
Union gave Cyprus until Monday to raise the billions of euros it
needs to get an international bailout, or face the collapse of
its financial system and likely exit from the euro bloc.
Investors fear a collapse of the banking system in Cyprus
will tighten credit across Europe and become yet another hurdle
in the region's bumpy road out of economic crisis.
The worries over Cyrus hit the market after weeks of gains
that saw the Dow break record highs and the S&P 500 come within
striking distance of its all-time record close of 1,565.15.
"As there's a little more anxiety about what's happening in
Cyprus and Europe overall, you're seeing traders looking to pare
back risk exposure," said Michael James, managing director of
equity trading at Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles.
"I think the realization is, there isn't going to be a quick
remedy to the situation, nor is it easy to forecast what's going
to happen. Uncertainty breeds selling, especially in a market
that's gone as far as we have in the previous two weeks."
Oracle Corp shares lost 9.2 percent to $32.47 and
were the biggest drag on the Nasdaq 100. A number of brokerages
cut their price targets on the stock following a massive miss on
its third-quarter results.
Cisco was the Dow's biggest percentage loser, down
4.1 percent at $20.78, after brokerage FBR downgraded its rating
on the network equipment maker's stock and cut its price target.
The S&P basic materials sector index fell 1.4
percent, making it the heaviest weight on the S&P 500.
The Dow Jones industrial average slipped 72.27
points, or 0.50 percent, to 14,439.46. The Standard & Poor's 500
Index fell 11.24 points, or 0.72 percent, to 1,547.47.
The Nasdaq Composite Index shed 29.11 points, or 0.89
percent, to 3,225.07.
The benchmark S&P 500 index is on track to post only its
second weekly percentage drop so far this year, a testament to
its impressive 2013 run.
Adding to worries about the health of the euro zone, data
showed the euro zone's economy contracted more than expected in
March. The news overshadowed a batch of reports suggesting the
U.S. economic recovery was on the right track and solid
first-quarter growth in China.
A downward trend in jobless claims, an increase in factory
activity and a rise in sales of existing homes pointed to
growing momentum in the U.S. economy during the first quarter of
the year. Initial claims for U.S. unemployment benefits inched
higher in the latest week, but the four-week average of new
claims - a measure of labor market trends - fell to its lowest
level in five years.