- U.S. stocks opened lower on Friday, as Thursday''s downbeat U.S. economic reports continued to weigh on equity markets.

During early U.S. trade, the Dow Jones Industrial Average slid 0.65%, the S&P 500 declined 0.69%, while the Nasdaq Composite index shed 0.55%.

Investors remained cautious after data on Thursday showed that initial jobless claims rose in line with expectations last week, but the number of continuing jobless claims remained above the three million mark for the second successive week.

In addition, U.S. factory output fell to a three-month low in January, due to disruption from unseasonable cold weather.

The U.S. manufacturing PMI declined to 53.7 this month from a final reading of 55.0 in December. Analysts had expected the index to hold steady.

In the tech sector, Qualcomm shares tumbled 1.11% after saying it bought a portfolio of patents from Hewlett-Packard. HP shares were down 2.21% following the news.

Apple slipped 0.25%, even as billionaire investor Carl Icahn said he increased his stake in the tech giant by another USD500 million, bringing his total holdings in the iPhone maker to about USD3.6 billion.

On the upside, Microsoft surged 3.59% after saying revenue climbed 14% to a record USD24.5 billion in the fiscal second quarter, which ended December 31, beating market estimates.

Among financial stocks, Morgan Stanley retreated 1.30% amid reports Chairman and Chief Executive Officer James Gorman’s compensation package for last year includes a USD5.06 million stock bonus which is almost double his 2012 equity award.

In earnings news, Procter & Gamble reported lower quarterly profit, but the maker of diapers and detergent left its 2014 sales growth forecast unchanged, sending shares up 2.61%.

Other stocks likely to be in focus included Bristol-Myers Squibb, Honeywell, Kimberly-Clark and Xerox, also scheduled to report quarterly results throughout the session.

Across the Atlantic, European stock markets were sharply lower. The EURO STOXX 50 tumbled 1.65%, France’s CAC 40 retreated 1.56%, Germany''s DAX lost 1.31%, while Britain''s FTSE 100 retreated 1.03%.

During the Asian trading session, Hong Kong''s Hang Seng Index tumbled 1.25%, while Japan’s Nikkei 225 Index plunged 1.94%.

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