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Stocks Fall for Second Straight Day

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"The most interesting thing from the existing-home sales report is that inventories are so low ... there's not as many distressed homes on the market for sale, so I think those are both good signs," said Brad Sorensen, market and sector research director at Charles Schwab. "Some people have been on the sidelines who may want to sell their house, so I think we'll start to recognize that maybe they can get more of the price they were looking for."

The Philadelphia Fed said its business index printed at minus 12.5, a sign of contraction. The survey shows general business conditions and economists were looking for a reading of about 1. January's reading came in at minus 5.8. The survey said new orders took a hit, as the number came in at minus 7.8, while the labor market showed slight improvement with a reading of 0.9.

Minutes from the Fed's policy-making wing Wednesday suggested that central bankers were becoming more open to the idea of backing away from the massive $85 billion a month in open-ended Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities purchases that the central bank has been making.

Stocks dropped Wednesday as the prospect of less monetary easing raised questions as to what a Fed exit of continued monetary stimulus may mean for equity markets.

The Fed's less-than-thrilling announcement battered global stock markets. The FTSE 100 in London closed off 1.6% on Thursday, and the DAX in Frankfurt dropped 1.9%.

Asian markets closed with deep losses on Thursday as Japan's Nikkei average fell 1.4% overnight to finish at 11,309. Hong Kong's Hang Seng tumbled 1.7% to 22,907.

Gold futures for April delivery added 60 cents to settle at $1,578.60 an ounce at the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange, while futures for April crude oil contracts slid $2.38 cents to close at $92.84 a barrel.

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The benchmark 10-year Treasury popped 10/32, diluting the yield to 1.979%. The dollar was jumping 0.33%, according to the U.S. dollar index .

In corporate news, Tesla Motors (TSLA) reported a fourth-quarter adjusted loss of 65 cents a share on $306 million in revenue. Consensus among analysts expected a fourth-quarter loss of 53 cents a share on $298.9 million in revenue. Shares of the electric-car maker tumbled 8.8% on Thursday.

Chesapeake Energy (CHK) was anticipated to post fourth-quarter earnings of 14 cents a share for its fourth quarter. The second-largest U.S. producer of natural gas earned 58 cents a share a year earlier. Shares dropped 0.3%.

New York Times (NYT) said Wednesday that it was putting the Boston Globe up for sale a second time. Shares of the media company were down 1.4% on Thursday.

Safeway (SWY) was slated to report fourth-quarter earnings Thursday. Analysts were looking for the grocery-store chain to post a profit of 76 cents a share on revenue of $13.7 billion. Shares surged 14%.