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Markets close lower, hit by earnings and trade war uncertainty

Markets close lower, hit by earnings and trade war uncertainty
Trader Michael Milano works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. (Richard Drew / Associated Press)

Stocks closed lower on Wall Street on Wednesday, weighed down by a mixed batch of corporate earnings from big retailers and lingering uncertainty over the trade spat between the U.S. and China.

Lowe’s and Nordstrom were among the biggest decliners in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index after the retailers reported quarterly results that fell short of Wall Street’s expectations. Target bucked the trend, surging after its latest results handily topped analysts’ forecasts.

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Chipmakers and other technology stocks also pulled the market lower, continuing a pattern of volatile trading as investors react to developments in the U.S.-China trade dispute. Energy stocks also took losses, falling along with the price of crude oil. Small company stocks declined more than the rest of the market.

The sell-off outweighed gains by healthcare companies, household goods makers and other sectors, reversing some of the market’s gains from a day earlier.

“There’s just so much uncertainty, it’s really hard for anybody to frame how it’s going to play out,” said Karyn Cavanaugh, senior markets strategist at Voya Investment Management.

The S&P 500 index fell 8.09 points, or 0.3%, to 2,856.27. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 100.72 points, or 0.4%, to 25,776.61. The Nasdaq composite slid 34.88 points, or 0.5%, to 7,750.84.

The Russell 2000 index of small company stocks gave up 13.62 points, or 0.9%, to 1,531.63.

Major stock indexes in Europe closed mixed.

Bond prices rose, dragging the yield on the 10-year Treasury to 2.38% from 2.42% late Tuesday.

Heightened tensions over trade have stuck the market in a rut for the last two weeks. The major U.S. indexes are all down more than 3% in May, although they are still holding on to gains between of 10% to 16% for the year.

The turbulent stretch of trading this month has been a change from the relative calm that dominated markets earlier this year, when a trade agreement appeared in the works.

The U.S. has imposed 25% tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese imports and is planning to target an additional $300 billion, a move that would cover everything China ships to the U.S. China, meanwhile, has retaliated against $110 billion in U.S. products.

Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer wrapped up an 11th round of talks with Chinese counterparts earlier this month without reaching an agreement. More talks have yet to be scheduled.

The trade war continues to be a wild card hanging over the market, said Jason Pride, chief investment officer of private wealth for Glenmede. The economy is in the late stages of a decade-long expansion and investors are questioning how much longer it can continue.

“Everybody is looking over their shoulders trying to figure out when this cycle will end,” he said.

Corporate earnings and federal monetary policy have ceased to be major concerns, Pride said. That leaves trade as the most closely watched and volatile issue.

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Meanwhile, investors appeared to shrug off the minutes from the last meeting of Federal Reserve policymakers.

The central bank released the minutes Wednesday afternoon, but the market barely budged. The minutes show some Fed officials still thought more interest rate increases might be needed to keep low unemployment from triggering unwanted inflation. Financial markets have been hoping that the Fed will start cutting rates soon to bolster growth.

At its last meeting, the Fed kept its key policy rate unchanged in a range of 2.25% to 2.5%, where it’s been since the Fed raised rates for a fourth time last year.

Qualcomm and Apple drove the slide in technology stocks Wednesday. Qualcomm plunged 10.9% after a federal judge’s ruling against the chipmaker in an antitrust case. Several other chipmakers also fell. Micron Technology fell 2.6%, Intel dropped 1% and Broadcom slid 2.2%.

Tech stocks have swung between gains and losses this week after the U.S. proposed restrictions on technology sales to Chinese companies and then granted a 90-day grace period.

Investors hammered Lowe’s after the home improvement retailer slashed its outlook for the year after a weak first quarter. The company’s shares tumbled 11.8%, its biggest single-day decline in more than 28 years.

The latest results come a day after rival Home Depot reported solid first-quarter financial results.

Nordstrom also had a bad day, skidding 9.2% a day after the department store chain reported disappointing financial results. The company also cut its annual sales forecast.

In contrast, Target had its best day since late 2017 after a surge in online sales lifted its first-quarter profit well above Wall Street forecasts. The retailer has been aggressively expanding its online shopping options, including same-day services and in-store pickups. Its shares vaulted 7.8%.

Energy stocks also fell after energy futures closed broadly lower. Halliburton lost 3.3% and Schlumberger slid 2.9%.

Energy futures finished lower Wednesday. Benchmark U.S. crude fell after the U.S. Energy Department reported a large increase in crude supplies for last week. It dropped 2.7% to $61.42 a barrel.

Brent crude, the international standard, fell 1.6% to $70.99 a barrel.

Wholesale gasoline slid 1.4% to $1.99 a gallon. Heating oil gave up 1.5% to $2.05 a gallon. Natural gas fell 2.7% to $2.54 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold inched up 0.1% to $1,274.20 an ounce, silver added 0.3% to $14.45 an ounce and copper slid 1.4% to $2.69 a pound.

The dollar fell to 110.29 Japanese yen from 110.63 yen Monday. The euro strengthened to $1.1160 from $1.1158.

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