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US stocks swoon on news of jet downing in Ukraine and disappointing corporate earnings

FILE - In this Aug. 16, 2007 file photo, the flags on the facade of the New York Stock Exchange are a backdrop for a Wall Street street sign. European stocks were lower after most Asian markets abandoned modest gains Thursday July 17, 2014 ahead of U.S. economic data and corporate earnings reports. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, file)

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FILE - In this Aug. 16, 2007 file photo, the flags on the facade of the New York Stock Exchange are a backdrop for a Wall Street street sign. European stocks were lower after most Asian markets abandoned modest gains Thursday July 17, 2014 ahead of U.S. economic data and corporate earnings reports. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, file)

The downing of a passenger plane flying over Ukraine rattled U.S. financial markets Thursday, deepening a slide set off by a batch of disappointing company earnings and a weak home construction report.

All three major stock indexes ended lower for the first time in a week, but remained near record highs and positive for the year.

Ukrainian officials said a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane carrying 295 people was shot down over war-torn eastern Ukraine, although both the government and pro-Russia separatists fighting in the region denied responsibility. The situation raised concerns of wider geopolitical instability and an escalation of tensions between Russia and the West.

Investors responded by seeking refuge in U.S. government bonds. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to its lowest level since May. Gold and oil prices rose.

SanDisk, AutoNation, Yum Brands and Mattel were among the biggest decliners after reporting earnings or profit forecasts that disappointed investors. Airline and homebuilder stocks also fell sharply.

"What happened with the plane today and things swirling around with what may have actually happened with the plane caused a bit of a sell-off," said JJ Kinahan, chief strategist at TD Ameritrade. "The geopolitical risk is always the first one that people look for because it's the one that changes the fastest. The market always hates uncertainty."

Earlier Thursday, stock futures were down before the market opened as investors pored over the latest earnings and other news.

A pair of government reports pointed to an uneven U.S. recovery. The number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell last week, but home construction fell in June to the slowest pace in nine months, clouding the outlook for the housing recovery.

Homebuilders slumped on the news. M/I Homes led the decline, tumbling $1.38, or 5.8 per cent, to $22.37.

"The housing starts numbers were weak, but housing has been incredibly volatile," said Randy Frederick, managing director of trading and derivatives at the Schwab Center for Financial Research. "They were definitely disappointing."

Stocks opened lower, but then drifted between small gains and losses, with the Dow inching briefly into positive territory.

That budding comeback stalled at midmorning when news broke of the downed plane.

The CBOE Volatility Index, also known as the "VIX," jumped 33 per cent, reflecting investors' uneasiness. The index reflects investors' expectations of future volatility in the stock market.

All told, the Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 23.45 points, or 1.2 per cent, to 1,958.12. The Dow slid 161.39 points, or 0.9 per cent, to 16,976.81. The Nasdaq composite sank 62.52 points, or 1.4 per cent, to 4,363.45.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.46 per cent from 2.53 per cent late Wednesday. Benchmark U.S. crude oil for August delivery jumped $1.99 to $103.19 in New York. Gold surged $17.10 to $1,316.90 an ounce.

All 10 sectors in the S&P 500 declined, led by energy stocks.

SanDisk fell the most of the 500 stocks in the index, losing 13.6 per cent after the flash memory maker issued a disappointing outlook. The stock fell $14.62 to $93.21.

Sherwin-Williams bucked the trend, ending up as the biggest gainer in the index. It rose $9.22, or 4.6 per cent, to $210.95.

Despite Thursday's decline, stocks remain near record territory.

The Dow closed at a record high on Wednesday, its second this month, and the S&P 500 is hovering near its most recent all-time high of 1,985.44 set on July 3.

That may have encouraged investors to sell some of their stock holdings Thursday, said Darrell Cronk, deputy chief investment officer for Wells Fargo Private Bank.

"It's more of some position-squaring and a little bit of profit-taking over the next couple of days as we continue to set new highs," Cronk said.

Even with growing geopolitical uncertainty, the market has remained focused on company earnings, which have been mostly favourable so far.

On Thursday, however, many companies disappointed.

AutoNation's second-quarter earnings rose 12 per cent, but fell short of Wall Street's expectations. The stock of the nation's largest auto dealership chain fell $5.01, or 8 per cent, to $55.82.

Mattel fell $2.57, or 7 per cent, to $36.46 after the toy maker reported that its income plunged 61 per cent in the second quarter, weighed down by costs tied to its acquisition of Mega Brands.

Yum Brands shares slid $5.70, or 7 per cent, to $77.01 after the operator of Taco Bell, Pizza hut and KFC reported higher second-quarter earnings but also sluggish sales in the U.S. at Pizza Hut and KFC chains.

Among other stocks making news:

— Microsoft rose 45 cents, or 1 per cent, to $44.53 after announcing early Thursday that it will eliminate up to 18,000 jobs over the next year as it works to integrate the Nokia business it bought in April. The company has about 127,000 employees now.

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