Jittery investors sold stocks lower yesterday as the downgrade of bonds issued by General Motors and Ford undermined the market's confidence...

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NEW YORK — Jittery investors sold stocks lower yesterday as the downgrade of bonds issued by General Motors and Ford undermined the market’s confidence and erased its earlier modest gains.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 44.26 to 10,340.38, ending a four-day winning streak. Much of the loss could be attributed to GM’s falling stock price.

Microsoft, one of the 30 Dow stocks, added 2 cents to close at $25.23 a share. Boeing, also a Dow stock, fell 54 cents to $59.74 a day after hitting a 52-week high.

Broader stock indicators were narrowly lower. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was down 3.02 at 1,172.63, and the Nasdaq composite index lost 0.43 to 1,961.80.

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Standard & Poor’s decision to lower the automakers’ debt ratings dragged down the rest of the market, which was already nervous ahead of the Labor Department’s job-creation report today. The debt downgrade came one day after stocks surged in response to billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian’s announcement that he took a large stake in embattled GM.

“The market shouldn’t be dropping this much just because of two companies in one sector. Everyone knew Ford and GM were hurting, no matter what Kerkorian did yesterday,” said Brian Pears, head equity trader at Victory Capital Management in Cleveland. “It shows the skittishness of this market. Any feelings of bullishness we may have had are very tentative still.”

Crude-oil futures moved sharply higher in afternoon trading after an industry consulting firm issued a report that projected higher energy prices. A barrel of light crude settled at $50.83, up 70 cents, on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The bond market moved sharply higher as the automakers’ debt downgrades sent investors looking for safer government issues. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 4.15 percent from 4.19 percent late Wednesday.

Before the automakers’ downgrades, stocks traded narrowly higher as investors marked time ahead of today’s important job-creation report from the Labor Department. The market had been up for four straight sessions, and some analysts had started talking about sustained improvement in the market. However, the market’s mood proved too tentative to keep the rally going.

“People are still pessimistic,” said Scott Wren, equity strategist for A.G. Edwards & Sons. “I think we saw the bulk of the panic selling a few weeks ago, but while the market is stabilized, we’re still getting mixed news.”

Wall Street had welcomed a Labor Department report showing a 2.6 percent annualized increase in worker productivity in the first quarter, the best increase in nine months. The report also noted that labor costs, while climbing, rose less than productivity — which means companies are getting more out of their workers without undue costs.

Retailers’ sales reports showed gains at traditional department stores and wholesale clubs, but slower growth at big discount chains — a sign that lower-income Americans might be spending less due to higher gasoline prices.