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US stocks fall on lower consumer debt

Major US stock indices declined Wednesday after government data showed consumers were reluctant to take on more debt, and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke hedged his bets on economic recovery.

“The economy seems to have stabilized and is beginning to grow again,” Bernanke said in a speech from Dallas, Texas. “But we are far from being out of the woods.”

Bernanke cited high unemployment, rampant home foreclosures and poor credit access for small businesses as causes of concern.

The US central bank reported that consumer credit dropped by $11.5 billion in February, signalling that households remain reluctant to ramp up spending.

The blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 72.47 points, or 0.66 percent, to 10,897.52. The broader Standard and Poor’s 500 Index was down 6.99 points, or 0.59 percent, to 1,182.45. The technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index fell 5.65 points, or 0.23 percent, to 2,431.16.

The US currency rose against the euro to 74.91 euro cents from 74.74 euro cents on Tuesday. The dollar fell against the Japanese currency to 93.36 yen from 93.76 yen the previous day.