End-of-quarter selling and growing uneasiness about the economy sent stocks sliding yesterday, with Caterpillar and other industrials depressing...

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NEW YORK — End-of-quarter selling and growing uneasiness about the economy sent stocks sliding yesterday, with Caterpillar and other industrials depressing blue chips and technology issues dragging the Nasdaq composite index to a five-month low.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 79.95 to 10,405.70, its lowest close since Jan. 24. Microsoft, one of the 30 Dow stocks, declined 28 cents to close at $23.93 a share. Boeing, also a Dow stock, fell 85 cents to $57.25.

Broader stock indicators also gave ground. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was down 8.92 at 1,165.36, also the worst showing since Jan. 24. The Nasdaq composite index lost 18.64 to 1,973.88, the worst close for the index since Oct. 27.

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Analysts blamed the selling on portfolio managers looking to unload poor-performing stocks before the end of the quarter tomorrow. Investors were also nervously awaiting two key economic reports due on Friday, including the Labor Department’s March employment figures and the Institute for Supply Management’s monthly report on the industrial sector.

Investors discounted the latest reading of the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index, which showed a larger-than-expected drop in confidence for March. The index reading came in at 102.4, less than the 103 forecast from Wall Street and the 104 reading in February.

“To some extent, we can expect to be pretty trendless until Friday,” said Hugh Johnson, chairman and chief investment officer of Johnson Illington Advisors. “There’s nervousness, you have people tip-toeing around, and nobody’s really getting into the market in any meaningful way.”