U.S. stocks continue slide amid weak economic data

U.S. stocks continued a two-day slide Thursday on weak economic data and concern about the Federal Reserve’s resolve to keep juicing the economy.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 46.92 points, or 0.3 percent, at 13,880.62.

The S&P 500 index dropped 9.53, or 0.6 percent, to 1,502.42. The S&P is headed for its first weekly loss of the year. The Nasdaq composite index lost 32.92, or 1 percent, to 3,131.49.

In Europe, markets closed sharply lower after a monthly survey of European executives showed that business activity in the European Union slowed in February, a strong signal that a downturn that began last year will continue into 2013.

Benchmark indexes lost 2.3 percent in France, 1.9 percent in Germany, and 1.6 percent in Britain.

Oil plunges for second day, raising hope of cheaper gas

NEW YORK – Oil prices plunged for a second day Thursday, raising hopes that a relentless rise in gasoline prices may slow or reverse at least temporarily.

U.S. benchmark crude oil fell $2.38, or 2.5 percent, to finish at $92.84 per barrel in New York, the second drop of 2 percent in two days. Brent crude, which is used to price oil used to make gasoline in many U.S. refineries, fell $2.07 to end at $113.53.

Crude oil’s recent slide is a result of ample supplies and recent speculation that the Federal Reserve may soon allow interest rates to rise, which would reduce the supply of easy cash investors have been using to buy commodities such as oil.

The drop in crude hasn’t translated into lower pump prices — yet. The average U.S. retail gasoline price rose a penny to $3.78 per gallon Thursday, according to AAA, the Oil Price Information Service, and Wright Express. Gasoline has risen for 34 days straight since averaging $3.29 on Jan. 18.

The two-day plunge in crude and slightly lower wholesale gasoline futures prices are expected to at least slow the rise in pump prices, and perhaps push them back slightly.

“We’ll get a pause here in the next couple of days, but (prices) will still be higher on St. Patrick’s Day than they are now,” said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at OPIS.

United removes Boeing 787 from flying plans until June

United Airlines cut the grounded Boeing 787 from its flying plans at least until June and postponed its new Denver-to-Tokyo flights Thursday, as airlines continued to tear up their schedules while the plane is out of service.

Investigators are still trying to figure out what caused a battery fire in one plane and forced the emergency landing of another plane last month. The world’s 50 787s have been grounded since Jan. 16.

United spokeswoman Christen David said the plane could still fly earlier than June 5 if a fix is found. At that point, it would be used as needed around United’s system, she said.

United was due to begin flying from Denver to Tokyo’s Narita airport on March 31. It’s postponing the start of those flights at least until May 12, or longer if the 787 isn’t cleared to fly.

That would be almost a year after United began selling tickets for the flight.

— From news service reports