US stock indexes fall as an afternoon slide accelerates
AP Business Writer
Banks led a broad slide in U.S. stocks Wednesday that more than wiped out gains from the day before.
After an early upward turn, the stock market veered into the red by midmorning, the losses accelerating as the day wore on. Basic materials companies, industrials, utilities and energy stocks were among the biggest decliners.
Trading was light ahead of the New Year’s Day holiday. Two stocks fell for every one that rose on the New York Stock Exchange.
“Volume is pretty weak, so there’s no aggressive selling taking place,” said Bob Doll, chief equity strategist at Nuveen Asset Management. “It’s more sellers locking in some better gains than they thought they were going to get this year. It’s been a really good year, so letting a little go is just fine.”
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 111.36 points, or 0.6 percent, to 19,833.68. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index lost 18.96 points, or 0.8 percent, to 2,249.92. The Nasdaq composite, which set a record high close the day before, slid 48.89 points, or 0.9 percent, to 5,438.56.
The three major indexes are on pace for a solid gain this year. The Dow is up 13.8 percent. The S&P 500 is on track for a 10 percent gain, while the Nasdaq is headed for an 8.6 percent gain. Small-company stocks are up even more. The Russell 2000 is up 19.8 percent so far this year.
In a week featuring a dearth of major economic or company data, investors got some insight into the U.S. housing market.
A report from the National Association of Realtors found that fewer Americans signed contracts to buy homes in November. The NAR said its seasonally adjusted pending home sales index fell 2.5 percent to 107.3 percent, the lowest reading since the start of this year.
The slowdown marks a reversal for the housing market, as sales growth has been solid for the past year. Homebuilder stocks closed mostly lower, with William Lyon Homes losing the most. It fell 64 cents, or 3.2 percent, to $19.33.
Nvidia was the biggest decliner in the S&P 500 index, sliding 6.9 percent after short seller Citron Research said it expects the chipmaker’s shares, which have tripled in value this year, to fall substantially. The stock lost $8.07 to $109.25.
Shares in oil and natural gas drilling companies also declined.
Chesapeake Energy lost 36 cents, or 4.7 percent, to $7.23. Murphy Oil shed 78 cents, or 2.4 percent, to $32.03. Helmerich & Payne fell $1.57, or 2 percent, to $78.39.
Fred’s dropped 4.8 percent on a published report indicating that the regional drugstore chain has adopted a “poison pill” to discourage an activist investor from interfering with the company’s plan to buy 865 Rite Aid stores. Rite Aid has to sell the stores in order to appease anti-trust regulators and close its $9.4 billion buyout deal with Walgreens Boots Alliance. Shares in Fred’s fell 95 cents to $18.68.
Qualcomm slipped 2.2 percent after antitrust regulators in South Korea fined the company $865 million, claiming the chipmaker engaged in unfair sales practices, including refusing to let competitors license patents that are essential for chipmaking. The stock lost $1.50 to $65.75.
Coach notched the biggest gain in the S&P 500 index, adding 70 cents, or 2 percent, to $35.14.
Markets overseas were mostly subdued.
In Europe, Germany’s DAX and France’s CAC 40 each ended essentially flat. Britain’s FTSE 100 posted a record-high close of 7,106.08, a gain of 0.5 percent. In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 was flat. Australia’s S&P ASX 200 gained 1 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index gained 0.8 percent. South Korea’s Kospi dropped 0.9 percent.
Benchmark U.S. crude rose 16 cents to close at $54.06 a barrel in New York. It rose 88 cents on Tuesday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, climbed 13 cents to close at $56.22 a barrel in London. It gained 93 cents the day before.
In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline added 2 cents to $1.67 a gallon and heating oil held steady at $1.70 a gallon. Natural gas futures rose 17 cents, or 4.5 percent, to $3.93 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.51 percent from 2.56 percent late Tuesday.
In currency trading, the dollar fell to 117.19 yen, down from 117.45 on Tuesday. The euro fell to $1.0407 from $1.0458.
Among metals, the price of gold rose $2.10 to $1,140.90 an ounce. Silver added 5 cents to $16.04 an ounce. Copper fell 2 cents to $2.50 a pound.