Stocks drift down a day after hitting 2-year highs

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By Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Stock trading opened quietly Friday, a day after major indexes hit two-year highs.

In a sign the economy is improving, the Conference Board said its index leading economic indicators rose 1.1 percent in November. The index — which tracks data such as orders for new goods and materials — rose 0.5 percent in October.

In early trading, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 24.71 points, or 0.2 percent, to 11,474.54. The Standard and Poor's 500 index fell 0.89, or 0.1 percent, to 1,241.98. The Nasdaq composite index rose 3.28, or 0.1 percent, to 2,640.59.

The Dow and S&P 500 index closed Thursday at their highest levels since September 2008.

The House passed an $850 billion tax cut package late Thursday night. The bill will extend Bush-era tax cuts for another two years. House Democrats had complained that the tax package is overly generous to the nation's wealthiest taxpayers.

In a sign that companies are spending more money on technology, software giant Oracle Corp. said after the market closed Thursday that its net income jumped 28 percent last quarter. That beat analyst expectations. The company's stock jumped 6 percent to $32.07.

Research in Motion Ltd., the maker of the Blackberry, also said late Thursday that its third quarter earnings beat analyst expectations. The company's stock rose 2 percent to $60.62.

Before the market opened, Canadian bank BMO Financial Group said that it will buy Wisconsin-based Marshall & Ilsley Corp. for $4.1 billion in stock. BMO, which operates the Bank of Montreal, said it will repay the preferred shares that Marshall & Ilsley issued as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program before the deal closes in July. Shares of Marshall & Ilsley bounced 18.8 percent to $6.88.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell slightly to 3.41. It traded at 3.42 late Thursday.

Stocks overseas were mixed. Asian markets closed slightly higher. European markets fell after Moody's Investors Service downgraded Ireland's government bond rating by five notches and said that the country had a weak economic outlook. The Euro Stoxx 50, which tracks blue chip companies in countries that use the euro, fell 0.6 percent.