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Stocks close day flat; Europe debt still a concern

Stocks closed Thursday mixed after falling sharply at the open. Investors weighed renewed concern about Europe against the latest encouraging report about the U.S. job market.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost as much as 134 points but at the close was down only about 3 points to 12,415.70. The Standard & Poor's 500 index erased its losses and was up about 3 points to 1,281.06. The Nasdaq gained 21 to 2,669.86.

In Europe, trading in UniCredit, a large Italian bank, was halted after the stock lost a quarter of its value. The bank said Wednesday that it would need to offer huge discounts to investors to raise money.

And a financial crisis deepened in Hungary, which had to pay a staggeringly high interest rate of 10 percent on its 12-month debt. That is far above the 7 percent level that forced Greece and Portugal to seek bailouts.

Taken together, the news raised fears on Wall Street that Europe's debt crisis would spread from small countries such as Greece and infect much larger ones such as Italy that are too big to be bailed out.

"The positives that are coming out of our economy are less significant than the fear that is coming out of Europe," said Ralph Fogel, an investment strategist and partner at Fogel Neale Partners in New York.

Stocks fell more than 2 percent in Italy, Greece and Spain. Markets in the bigger, more stable economies of Britain and Germany fell slightly.

The euro fell to just below $1.28, down more than a penny from Wednesday, to its lowest since September 2010. The euro spent most of last year, even the most uncertain days of the European debt crisis, above $1.30.