Stocks fall: Oil prices slip and energy companies dive

Stocks fall: Oil prices slip and energy companies dive
Specialists work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday. (Richard Drew / Associated Press)

Stocks fell broadly Tuesday as investors around the world fled risky bets on worrisome trade data out of China and a slump in the price of crude oil.

Investors dumped stocks from the start of trading, then picked up their selling near the close. Seven of the 10 industry sectors of the Standard and Poor's 500 dropped, putting an end to a five-day winning streak for that index. Treasury bonds rose sharply as investors sought safety.


Oil prices have been rising from 13-year lows in recent weeks, but they reversed course Tuesday; U.S. crude dropped nearly 4%. Energy stocks were hammered. Murphy Oil plunged 15% and oil rig operator Transocean lost 10%.

A report overnight from China showing that exports and imports had dropped last month helped revive fears that a slowdown in that country could hurt the slowly strengthening U.S. economy.

"Where is the global growth going to come from?" said Steven Ricchiuto, chief economist at Mizuho Securities. "There is no acceleration in growth."

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 109.85 points, or 0.6%, to 16,964.10. The S&P 500 fell 22.50 points, or 1.1%, to 1,979.26. The Nasdaq composite sank 59.43 points, or 1.3%, to 4,648.82.

After dropping sharply earlier this year, U.S. stocks have been generally climbing as data on hiring, construction spending and manufacturing suggested the nation might be able to buck a slowdown abroad. The S&P 500 is up 10% from mid-February.

But Bill Stone, chief investment officer at PNC Asset Management Group, said investors have been worried that the climb was not sustainable, given trouble overseas, and the drop in oil and Chinese trade data pushed many of them to sell.

"We're overbought," Stone said. "People are taking some profits off of the larger run-up from the low."

China's report showed exports plunged 25% in February from a year earlier, as weak global demand and a business shutdown during the Lunar New Year holiday combined to depress sales. Customs data also showed imports fell 14%.

In overseas trading, nearly every major market fell. Japan's Nikkei 225 dropped 0.8% and South Korea's Kospi lost 0.6%. In Europe, France's CAC 40, Germany's DAX and Britain's FTSE 100 each fell 0.9%.

Investors are looking ahead to a policy announcement from the European Central Bank on Thursday. Further stimulus moves are expected, but the central bank’s unprecedented program of buying bonds and driving interest rates into negative territory has had mixed results so far.

Among U.S. stocks making big moves Tuesday, hamburger chain Shake Shack plunged 12% to $37.23 after delivering quarterly results and an outlook that disappointed investors.

Urban Outfitters jumped 16% to $32.69. Late Monday, the retailer reported strong holiday-season earnings.

The euro fell to $1.1002 from $1.1014. The dollar edged down to 112.61 yen from 113.27 yen.

Yields on U.S. government bonds, which move in the opposite direction of prices, fell sharply. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 1.82% from 1.91% late Monday.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell $1.40 to $36.50 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It had jumped $1.98 on Monday. Brent crude, which is used to price international oils, fell $1.19 to $39.65 a barrel.

Wholesale gasoline fell less than a penny to $1.388 a gallon. Heating oil dropped 2.3 cents to $1.20 a gallon. Natural gas rose 2.2 cents to $1.712 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Industrial and precious metals ended broadly lower. Gold slipped $1.10 to $1,262.90 an ounce, silver fell 24 cents to $15.39 an ounce and copper sank six cents to $2.22 a pound.