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US stocks end difficult January with another fall

NEW YORK - Stock investors were hit from all sides in January.

Concerns about the global economy and U.S. company earnings, as well as turmoil in emerging markets, led the Dow Jones industrial average to its worst start since 2009. However, many investors remain hopeful that the problems will not spill over into the rest of 2014.

They even see the downturn as healthy, given the U.S. market's rapid rise last year.

The Dow slid 5.3 percent in January while the Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 3.6 percent and the Nasdaq composite declined 1.7 percent.

Investors entered the year with some degree of skepticism and nervousness. The stock market went basically straight up in 2013. The S&P 500 index ended 2013 with a gain of nearly 30 percent, its best year since 1997.

"No amount of negative news could derail the market last year," said Jonathan Corpina, a floor trader at the New York Stock Exchange with Meridian Equity Partners.

But no stock market can go straight up forever.

Many investors expected 2014 to be a more muddled and volatile year for the market. Market strategists late last year were looking for the S&P 500 index to notch a modest gain of 4 percent to 6 percent, ending in the range of 1,850 to 1,900.

Investors were also looking for more pullbacks this year and possibly a correction, the technical term for when a stock market index like the S&P 500 falls 10 percent or more.

Three months ago, analysts at Goldman Sachs said there was roughly a 60 percent chance that a correction would happen this year.

"People did look at these stock market valuations at the beginning of the year with a degree of nervousness," said David Kelly, chief market strategist with J.P. Morgan Funds. "A correction would probably be healthy for the market."

But many investors were surprised by January's turbulence. With one exception, the Dow had triple-digit moves every trading day in January.

Still, with the broader S&P 500 index down just 3.6 percent from its January 15 peak, the downturn is hardly severe.

"There's been some negative news out there - the economic data, corporate earnings and what's now going on in emerging markets - but I'm not convinced the headlines are bad enough to be a catalyst to push us into a correction," Corpina said.

Investors point to the December jobs report, released on Jan. 10, as the event that started the troubles. The U.S. government said employers created only 74,000 jobs in December, the worst month for job creation in since 2011 and far below expectations.

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