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Apple, Microsoft shares tumble, sending Dow to monthly loss

Stocks on Wall Street ended a dismal January with investors losing confidence in the technology sector, specially Microsoft and Apple.

Apple fell 3.6% after being under pressure the last two days since unveiling its new tablet computer, the iPad. The company also reported record earnings this week but finished the week down 2.9%.

A 3.4% drop in Microsoft came despite its report of a 60% gain in fiscal second-quarter profit.

Energy stocks were also weak, hurt by a fourth straight decline in crude oil prices on demand concerns.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 53.13 points, or 0.5%, to 10,067.33, The Dow's losses were tempered by solid gains in Wal-Mart, Home Depot and DuPont.

The blue chip index finished January down 3.5%, its biggest monthly decline since February 2009.

However, some traders worry the Dow's 6.1% decline so far from its recent high, set on January 19, leaves room for more downside before the average hits the 10% threshold that usually defines a correction.

The S&P 500 fell 1% to 1073.82, down 3.7% for the month.

The Nasdaq Composite Index was the weakest of the major averages, off 1.5% to end at 2147.35, down 5.4% for January.

Other markets: Europe up, Asia down

Canadian stocks fell for a third day, completing their biggest monthly loss since February 2009.

Goldcorp retreated 4.4% as bullion futures declined for a third day. Canadian Pacific Railway lost 4.4% after its quarterly profit announcement disappointed investors. Teck Resources decreased 5.5% as copper prices had their biggest weekly drop since December 2008.

The S&P/TSX Composite Index slumped 1.6% to 11,094.31, its lowest close since November 4. The index has fallen 5.6% this month even as 75% of S&P/TSX companies that have reported quarterly earnings this year have beaten analysts’ average estimates.

European shares ended January on a positive note as tension eased surrounding Greece's financial crisis and a batch of strong earnings reports from auto and technology companies boosted confidence.

In Germany, BMW shares rose 4.8% after it reassured investors it would post a pre-tax profit for 2009, even though annual revenue fell 4.7%. Daimler shares rose 3.4% after HSBC upgraded the firm to neutral from underweight.

The pan-European Dow Jones Stoxx 600 Index rose 1% to 246.96, paring losses for the month to 2.8%.

The German DAX climbed 1.2% to 5608.79, the French CAC-40 Index advanced 1.4% to 3739.46 while the UK FTSE 100 Index rose 0.8% to 5188.52.

Asian markets ended January on a weak note after a solid 2009.

Japan's Nikkei Stock Average of 225 companies dropped 2.1% to 10198.04, a five-week low. The index slid 3.7% for the week and is down 3.3% for the year, after posting losses in eight of the last 10 sessions.

China's Shanghai Composite lost 8.8% in January, closing at 2989.29.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index fell 8% to 20121.99, Australia's S&P/ASX 200 slid 6.2% to 4569.62 and South Korea's Kospi ended the month down 4.8% at 1602.43.

Commodities: Oil, gold down

Crude oil futures sank to a one-month low as a 5.7% expansion in fourth quarter US gross domestic product, more than forecasters had anticipated, failed to register with a market still grappling with weak oil demand.

Light, sweet crude for March delivery settled 75USc, or 1%, lower at $US72.89 a barrel in New York, off 8.2% for January. It was the seventh decline in the past eight sessions.

That loss also halted a five-month winning streak and represented the biggest one-month slide since December 2008.

Brent crude on London’s ICE futures exchange settled 67USc, or 0.9%, lower at $US71.46 a barrel.

Gold futures finished a volatile session with a tiny loss after the dollar was boosted by the US economic data.

The February gold fell 60USc, or 0.1%, to settle at $US1083 an ounce in New York while the most-active April dipped $US1, or 0.1%, to $1083.80.

Currencies: Dollar up, euro down

Pressure on the euro accelerated, falling below $US1.39 for the first time in more than six months.

The weakness appeared to prompt action by the Swiss National Bank, which intervened to stem a sharp rally in the Swiss franc.

The euro jumped to as high as 1.4764 Swiss francs before settling back to 1.4704 francs.

The US dollar rose to a fresh six-month high, propelled by improved economic data and a rise in consumer confidence.

The euro fell to $US1.3868 compared with $US1.3985 late on Thursday. Against the yen, the dollar also rose to ¥90.29 compared with ¥90.25 before the GDP release.

The UK pound fell 0.8% to $US1.6001. It's declined 0.2% this month versus the dollar.

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