Stocks fall, dragged down by energy and materials companies

Stocks fall, dragged down by energy and materials companies
The U.S. flag flies above the Wall Street entrance to the New York Stock Exchange. (Richard Drew / Associated Press)

Falling prices for oil and other commodities pulled U.S. stocks modestly lower on Wednesday, nudging the Standard & Poor's 500 index slightly into the red for the year and putting it on course to snap a five-week winning streak.

Energy and mining companies led the decline, while consumer staples and utilities stocks bucked the broader downward trend.


Disappointing earnings from several companies, including Nike, also weighed on the market. Oil slumped 4%.

Trading was muted ahead of Friday, when markets will be closed for the Good Friday holiday.

"It's one of the lowest-volume days of the year," said Erik Davidson, chief investment officer for Wells Fargo Private Bank. "We're seeing a little bit of a sell-off, but not much."

Investors can expect similarly low trading volume Thursday.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 79.98 points, or 0.5%, to 17,502.59. The S&P 500 slid 13.09 points, or 0.6%, to 2,036.71. The Nasdaq composite dropped 52.80 points, or 1.1%, to 4,768.86.

The Dow is now up 0.5% for the year, while the S&P 500 is down 0.4% and the Nasdaq is down 4.8%.

Major U.S. indexes moved lower early on as falling prices for oil, natural gas, precious metals and other commodities put traders in a selling mood.

Chesapeake Energy sank 14.3% to $4.13. Marathon Oil fell 9.9% to $10.19. Southwestern Energy slid 9% to $7.35.

Mining companies also slumped. Newmont Mining fell 8.8% to $24.98, and Freeport-McMoRan dived 11.28% to $9.75.

A batch of company earnings also gave investors reasons to sell.

Nike, one of the 30 stocks in the Dow, fell 3.8% to $62.44 after reporting revenue that fell far short of what analysts were expecting. The athletic apparel maker also gave a weaker-than-anticipated outlook for 2016.

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts slid 7.1% to $14.29 after the chain reported disappointing fourth-quarter revenue and issued a weaker-than-expected annual profit forecast.

Software maker Red Hat also declined, falling 4.2% to $72.33, after it issued disappointing forecasts.


Most homebuilders slumped after the Commerce Department reported that new-home sales rose only 2% in February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 512,000. Sales in the opening two months of 2016 are running slightly below last year's pace. Beazer Homes USA fell the most, sliding 7.2% to $8.07.

All told, eight of the 10 sectors in the S&P 500 index lost ground, with energy stocks sliding the most: 2.1%. The sector is down about 18% over the past 12 months. Utilities and consumer staples stocks moved higher.

Not all companies got caught up in the broad decline.

Pepco Holdings vaulted 26.8% to $26.93 after a Washington, D.C., regulator approved the company's $7-billion sale to rival utility Exelon. The deal will go through only if Exelon agrees to the regulator's terms, however. Exelon slipped less than 1% to $34.72.

European stocks were mixed following Tuesday's deadly bombings in Belgium.

Germany's DAX rose 0.3%. France's CAC 40 fell 0.2%. Britain's FTSE 100 edged up 0.1%. Belgium's main index increased 0.1%.

In Asia, markets mostly fell moderately. Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 fell 0.3%. South Korea's Kospi edged down 0.1%. Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.3%. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 lost 0.5%.

In energy trading, benchmark U.S. crude fell $1.66, or 4%, to close at $39.79 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the benchmark for international oils, slid $1.32, or 3.2%, to close at $40.47 a barrel in London.

Wholesale gasoline fell 4 cents, or 2.9%, to $1.45 a gallon. Heating oil slipped 5 cents, or 3.8%, to $1.20 a gallon. Natural gas declined 7 cents, or 3.7%, to $1.79 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Among metals, gold fell $24.60, or 2%, to $1,224.40 an ounce. Silver slid 61 cents, or 3.9%, to $15.27 an ounce. Copper fell 5 cents, or 2.4%, to $2.24 a pound.

Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 1.87% from 1.94% late Tuesday. The euro fell slightly to $1.1183 from $1.1216, and the dollar rose to 112.39 yen from 112.33 yen.