Stocks fall modestly as oil prices slide

Energy companies led U.S. stocks modestly lower Tuesday, erasing the small gains the market made a day earlier.

The biggest drop in crude oil prices since October weighed on oil producers and other energy stocks. Disappointing results or outlooks from retailers and other companies also weighed on the market.

Utilities and consumer-focused companies such as packaged food and beverage makers, as well as restaurant chains, bucked the trend.

Investors had their eye on Washington, where the House is expected to vote on its version of a major tax bill this week. Expectations that the tax overhaul will sharply lower corporate taxes have helped lift the market this year.

“We're through earnings season, which was pretty good, with earnings up about 10%,” said Stuart Freeman, co-head of global equity strategy for Wells Fargo Investment Institute. “Now investors are waiting and watching to see what shape this tax reduction bill is going to take.”

The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 5.97 points, or 0.2%, to 2,578.87. The Dow Jones industrial average slipped 30.23 points, or 0.1%, to 23,409.47. The Nasdaq composite slid 19.72 points, or 0.3%, to 6,737.87. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks retreated 3.81 points, or 0.3%, to 1,471.26.

The steep drop in crude oil prices weighed on oil exploration companies and other energy-sector stocks.

Newfield Exploration was the biggest decliner in the S&P 500, tumbling 7.1% to $29.82. Range Resources fell 6.6% to $17.35.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell $1.06, or 1.9%, to settle at $55.70 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. That's the biggest single-day decline since October. Brent crude, used to price international oils, declined 95 cents, or 1.5%, to $62.21 a barrel in London.

“There's this perception that there's a lot of supply waiting in the wings, and as prices have moved higher, that's made the marginal producer want to come out and just find more oil,” said Eric Freedman, chief investment officer of U.S. Bank Wealth Management.

The market's spotlight is on retailers this week. Many retailers are reporting quarterly results over the next few days, including Target, Wal-Mart Stores and Best Buy.

On Tuesday, Home Depot turned in better-than-expected results and raised its outlook for the year. Shares in the home-improvement retailer rose 1.6% to $168.06.

Advance Auto Parts leaped 16.3% to $95.72 — the biggest gainer in the S&P 500 — after the company's latest quarterly earnings exceeded Wall Street's expectations.

Other big retailers failed to impress.

TJX Cos., the parent company of T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, slid 4% to $67.94 after it reported revenue and earnings that fell short of analysts' estimates.

Dick's Sporting Goods fell 2.8% to $25.59 after the retailer reported a solid quarter but also said its earnings per share could drop as much as 20% next year.

General Electric was among the market's big movers, sliding sharply for the second day in a row after analysts downgraded the industrial conglomerate. On Monday, GE pulled back on profit expectations and slashed its dividend in half. On Tuesday the stock tumbled 5.9% to $17.90. It's now down 43.4% this year.

Buffalo Wild Wings soared 24% to $145.35 after a report that Roark Capital has offered to buy the eatery chain for $150 a share, or $2.3 billion.

Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.38% from 2.41%.

In other energy futures trading, wholesale gasoline fell 3 cents to $1.76 a gallon. Heating oil fell 3 cents to $1.91 a gallon. Natural gas slid 7 cents to $3.10 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold rose $4 to $1,282.90 an ounce. Silver rose 3 cents to $17.07 an ounce. Copper fell 5 cents to $3.07 a pound.

The dollar fell to 113.40 yen from 113.57 yen. The euro rose to $1.1794 from $1.1667.

In overseas stock markets, Germany's DAX fell 0.3%, while France's CAC 40 shed 0.5%. Britain's FTSE 100 was little changed. Japan's Nikkei 225 stock index finished flat. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index slipped 0.1%. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.9%. South Korea's Kospi edged down 0.2%. Shares in Taiwan and Southeast Asia were mostly higher.


UPDATES:

2:40 p.m.: This article was updated with closing prices, context and analyst comment.

7:40 a.m.: This article was updated with market prices and context.

This article was originally published at 7 a.m.

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