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Wall Street ends lower on jitters over upcoming Crimea vote

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange February 28, 2014. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange February 28, 2014. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Angela Moon

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wall Street ended lower on Friday with all three major stock indexes down for the week, as concerns over tensions between Ukraine and Russia escalated ahead of a referendum in Crimea this weekend.

The S&P 500 ended below a key technical support level of 1,850 for the second day. The index also ended down 2 percent for the week, its biggest weekly loss since late January.

Moscow shipped more troops and armor into Crimea on Friday and repeated its threat to invade other parts of Ukraine in response to violence in Donetsk on Thursday night despite Western demands to pull back.

Global equity markets were pressured, while gold and the yen strengthened as traders flocked into the safe-haven assets. The CBOE Volatility index VIX <.VIX>, Wall Street's so-called fear gauge, rose 9.9 percent to 17.82.

Tensions between Ukraine and Russia were "the primary drag on equities and risk assets this week," said Bucky Hellwig, senior vice president at BB&T Wealth Management in Birmingham, Alabama.

"The referendum this weekend, and what the response from the rest of the world and Russia will be to that," create a lot of uncertainty, Hellwig said.

A key emerging market exchange-traded fund, the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF , gained 0.5 percent to $38.40 after falling nearly 2 percent in the previous session.

Following the recent selloff in emerging markets, some market participants believe now is the time to get into emerging market equities, but analysts are wary.

"The numbers, certainly on the face of it, look compelling," said Jade Fu, investment manager at Heartwood Investment Management in London. The MSCI emerging markets index is trading at 1.5 times price-to-book value and poor sentiment has already resulted in outflows of over $30 billion from emerging market equities this year, Fu said.

But "it is difficult to hold a very optimistic view of emerging market assets at this time, even if lower valuations have made them appear more attractive."

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> fell 43.22 points or 0.27 percent, to 16,065.67, the S&P 500 <.SPX> lost 5.21 points or 0.28 percent, to 1,841.13 and the Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> dropped 15.023 points or 0.35 percent, to 4,245.396.

For the week, the Dow fell 2.35 percent, the S&P dropped 1.97 percent and the Nasdaq lost 2.1 percent.

In economic news, producer prices fell 0.1 percent in February, dragged down by falling costs for services, offering little sign of inflation pressures. U.S. consumer sentiment weakened in early March as an unusually harsh winter appeared to dim views on the economy's prospects.

General Mills Inc fell 2.4 percent to $49.77. It forecast third-quarter earnings below analysts' expectations as it faces increased competition from store brands and spends more on marketing its yogurts.

Aeropostale Inc tumbled 20.1 percent to $5.83. The teen apparel retailer reported its fifth straight quarterly loss.

Cooper Tire & Rubber Co jumped 6.7 percent to $24.36 after reporting fourth-quarter earnings ahead of Wall Street estimates.

About 6.7 billion shares traded on U.S. exchanges, according to BATS Global Markets, below the 6.9 billion daily average so far this month.

(Reporting by Angela Moon; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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