Stocks drop, weighed down by falling oil prices

A street sign in front of the New York Stock Exchange.
(Mary Altaffer / Associated Press)

The latest downturn in crude oil prices put investors in a selling mood Wednesday, pulling U.S. stocks lower for the second time this week.

The market decline, which wiped out some of the gains from a rally the day before, came on lighter-than-usual trading ahead of the New Year’s Day holiday.

Energy companies fell the most among the 10 sectors in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index, 1.5%. The sector is down 23.8% for the year. Southwestern Energy fell 6.8%, while Consol Energy sank 5.6%.


The price of oil shed 3.4% on Wednesday, extending its losses for the year to nearly 40%.

“You have oil prices affecting the market negatively today,” said Quincy Krosby, market strategist for Prudential Financial. “You throw in exceedingly low volume and it’s a recipe for skewing the market, in this case to the downside.”

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 117.11 points, or 0.7%, to 17,603.87. The S&P 500 index dropped 15 points, or 0.7%, to 2,063.36. The Nasdaq composite lost 42.09 points, or 0.8%, to 5,065.85.

The day’s market action cut into the S&P 500’s slim gain for the year. The index remains essentially flat with an increase of 0.2% this year. The Nasdaq is up about 7%, while the Dow is on track to end 2015 with a loss of 1.2%.

The major stock indexes headed lower from the get-go on Wednesday as investors tracked the latest swings in oil and natural gas prices.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell $1.27 to close at $36.60 a barrel in New York. It’s down 39% this year. Brent crude, which is used to price international oils, slid $1.33, or 3.5%, to close at $36.46 a barrel in London.

Several energy companies closed lower, including Noble Energy, which fell $1.18, or 3.5%, to $32.22, and Southwestern Energy, which tumbled 46 cents, or 6.8%, to $6.30.

Consol Energy shed 46 cents, or 5.6%, to $7.78. Natural gas company Chesapeake Energy fell 18 cents, or 3.9%, to $4.40.

In other energy trading in New York, wholesale gasoline fell 5 cents, or 3.6%, to $1.23 a gallon, while heating oil declined 5 cents, or 4.5%, to $1.079 a gallon. Natural gas slumped 15.6 cents to $2.214 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Traders found good reasons to bid up other stocks.

Weight Watchers International vaulted 19% after announcing an advertising campaign featuring Oprah Winfrey, who owns a 10% stake in the company. The stock added $3.68 to $23.05.

In Europe, trading volumes were low on the last full day of the year ahead of the New Year’s holiday. Many European markets will be open only for a half day on Dec. 31. Germany’s DAX fell 1.1%, while France’s CAC 40 lost 0.5%. Britain’s FTSE 100 slipped 0.6%.

Precious and industrial metals prices ended mixed. Gold lost $8.20 to $1,059.80 an ounce, silver fell 9 cents to $13.84 an ounce and copper gained 1 cent to $2.15 a pound.

Bond prices edged higher. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.29%.

In currencies, the dollar rose to 120.55 yen from 120.39 yen late Tuesday. The euro slipped to $1.0924 from $1.0939