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Wall Street falls on poor earnings, worst day in four months

(Reuters) – Stocks fell sharply on Friday, on track for the market’s worst day since June after weak earnings from bellwethers General Electric and McDonald’s triggered heavy selling pressure at the close of the week.

The Nasdaq was the weakest of the three major indexes, hurt after Google’s (GOOG.O) disappointing results on Thursday and an underwhelming report from Microsoft (MSFT.O) as well. For all three major indexes, Friday marks the worst day since June 21.

So far, this earnings season has been dismal in terms of the top line. The beat rate for revenue forecasts is 41.4 percent, trailing the long-term average of 62 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data.

The losses put the market on track for a second straight day of declines on the 25th anniversary of Black Monday, the Dow’s worst single-day percentage loss ever.

“This sell-off is definitely earnings-driven, but there is also an element of profit taking after several strong days,” said Andrew Wilkinson, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak & Co in New York. “But it is a very quiet crash, coming on the anniversary of the 1987 collapse.”

Options expiration has been another catalyst, as many funds would have had to sell stock holdings against expiring positions, and as investors start to hedge against the uncertain outlook for the end of the year.

McDonald’s Corp (MCD.N) lost 4.5 percent to hit $88.69 after its quarterly profit missed analysts’ expectations.

Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG.N), another fast-food chain, lost 15.6 percent to $241.39 after its quarterly results also missed targets.

General Electric Co (GE.N) shares fell 3.6 percent to $21.98. Quarterly earnings met Wall Street’s expectations, but revenue fell short of estimates. GE, however, stood by its full-year earnings forecast.

Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) said late Thursday its quarterly profit fell 22 percent – much more than expected. The stock tumbled 3.3 percent to $28.51.

On Thursday, Google (GOOG.O) took a hit after weak quarterly results were released early. On Friday, Google’s stock was down 2.6 percent at $676.98.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI dropped 214.37 points, or 1.58 percent, to 13,334.57. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index .SPX fell 25.55 points, or 1.75 percent, to 1,431.79.The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC slid 71.02 points, or 2.31 percent, to 3,001.85.

The CBOE Volatility Index .VIX, Wall Street’s fear gauge, rose 16.90 percent to 17.57 on Friday afternoon. That was the highest level for the VIX since September 5 as earnings worries and the October options expiration conspire to drive market volatility higher, said options strategist Frederic Ruffy.

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