Stock markets edge lower amid weak confidence signs

Major stock indexes dipped Tuesday as weak readings on consumer confidence gave investors little reason to extend the recent rally.

The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 43.90 points to close at 13,197.73, a loss of 0.3 percent. Bank of America fell 3.3 percent, the biggest drop in the Dow, after an analyst downgraded the stock.

Major indexes opened higher, then pulled back after 10 a.m. when the Conference Board said its index of consumer confidence slipped in March. Higher gas prices offset the surging stock market. Around the same time, the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Va., reported that a measure of regional manufacturing plunged this month.

Other indexes edged lower. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index dropped 3.99 points to 1,412.52. The Nasdaq composite fell 2.22 points to 3,120.35.

More than four stocks fell for every three that rose on the New York Stock Exchange. Trading volume was well below average at 3.4 billion.

Parent company asks court to void airline’s labor deals

The parent company of American Airlines asked a bankruptcy court Tuesday to dump its labor contracts, looking to either accelerate negotiations on job cuts that the airline says it needs, or ultimately make those cuts through the bankruptcy process.

AMR Corp., parent of American Airlines and American Eagle regional jets, has been negotiating with its unions for pilots, flight attendants and other workers on consensual cutbacks, en route to some 13,000 job cuts and $1.25 billion in cost reductions.

In a letter to employees Tuesday, Chief Executive Tom Horton said negotiations were progressing too slowly.

“With losses mounting and oil prices rising, there is growing urgency to move more quickly,” he said in the letter. “The bankruptcy law provides a process for the court to address such a situation as has been done in virtually all prior successful airline restructurings.”

As the court considers the request to void union contracts, the airline will continue working on consensual job concessions with unions, he said.

“I don’t see how they have a choice,” Anthony Sabino, an attorney and professor at St. John’s University in Queens, N.Y., told Bloomberg News. “They’ve been negotiating a long time, and the unions are sticking to their guns. This is the next step.”

Jobless rate holds steady in New England at 7.2 percent

New England’s unemployment rate remained unchanged in January, at its lowest level in two years.

The New England office of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said the regional jobless rate was 7.2 percent, the same as in December and nine-tenths of a percentage point lower than a year ago.

January’s unemployment rate in Maine was 7 percent, the same rate as December.

Rhode Island was the only state in New England with an unemployment rate higher than the national average in January. It was 10.9 percent that month, and ticked back up to 11 percent in February.

The average jobless rate in New England in 2011 was 7.7 percent, while Rhode Island’s rate was 11.3 percent.