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US stocks give up an early gain and turn lower

By ALEX VEIGA

U.S. stocks turned lower in midday trading Thursday, giving up an early gain. The market started higher as traders applauded a pickup in U.S. retail sales and new signs of health in the job market. The decline puts the Dow Jones industrial average on course for its fourth loss in a row.
 
KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 index dipped two points, or 0.1 percent, to 1,865 as of 11:05 a.m. Eastern Time. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 39 points, or 0.2 percent, to 16,300. The Nasdaq composite dropped 10 points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,313.
 
MARKED DOWN: Dollar General fell 2 percent after the company reported that its fourth-quarter earnings took a hit from harsh winter storms. It also issued a poor outlook for the year.  
 
RETAIL REBOUND: U.S. retail sales rose 0.3 percent in February as Americans spent more on autos, clothing and furniture, the Commerce Department reported. Spending had fallen 0.6 percent in January. The increase suggests that spending has started to recover after being tempered by snowstorms and freezing temperatures that blanketed much of the country.
 
HEALTHIER JOB MARKET: Applications for unemployment benefits dropped 9,000 last week to 315,000. Applications are a rough proxy for layoffs. The declines indicate companies are confident enough about the economy to keep their staffs. Employers are hiring more after harsh winter weather lowered job gains in January and December.
 
DUES INCREASE: Amazon rose 2.4 percent after the company raised the price of its popular Prime membership to $99 per year, an increase of $20. It was the first price increase since the online retailer introduced its Prime membership program, which includes two-day free shipping on many products, in 2005.
 
BONDS, COMMODITIES: Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.72 percent from 2.73 percent late Wednesday. Commodities prices were mixed. Gold fell $1.40 to $1,369 an ounce and crude oil was flat at $98.41.

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