Tech stocks weigh down indexes, and the dollar weakens

People walk to work on Wall Street in New York beneath a statue of George Washington in 2014.
People walk to work on Wall Street in New York beneath a statue of George Washington in 2014.
(Mark Lennihan / Associated Press)

U.S. stocks bounced up and down and finished mostly lower Wednesday as technology companies slumped. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross discussed a more nationalist trade stance, with uncertain effects for the market. The dollar, already at three-year lows, got even weaker.

Stocks got off to a strong start, but tech firms took heavier losses as the day wore on, led by chipmakers after Texas Instruments gave a disappointing forecast for the current quarter. Apple also fell.

The dollar sagged against other currencies after Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said the dollar’s decline is good for U.S. exporters, suggesting he isn’t likely to try to stop its slide. Airlines plunged after United Continental said it plans to ramp up passenger capacity.

Mnuchin and Ross are at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Mnuchin’s comments sent the price of gold and silver higher, as investors often buy precious metals when they’re concerned about inflation or softness in the dollar. Weakness in the dollar usually helps companies that export a lot of goods from the U.S., but it can hurt smaller, more domestic-focused companies by driving up the costs of imported components.

“Small-caps are much more domestically focused than large caps are, but [they are] still buying from foreign companies,” said Mark Hackett, chief of investment research at Nationwide Investment Management.


Hackett said smaller U.S. companies will report faster profit growth this year than larger ones. That’s because the benefit those companies will get from the recent corporate tax cut will outweigh the pain from the weaker dollar.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index slipped 1.59 points, or 0.1%, to 2,837.54. The Dow Jones industrial average edged up 41.31 points, or 0.2%, to 26,252.12. In the morning the Dow was up as much as 181 points; it later was down as much as 103 points before turning higher again. That’s an unusually large swing for the Dow given the market’s recent lack of volatility.

The Nasdaq composite fell 45.23 points, or 0.6%, to 7,415.06. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks skidded 11.09 points, or 0.7%, to 1,599.61.

Investors have focused on global trade issues the last few days. On Tuesday, the administration placed tariffs on imported solar power components and washing machines.

On Wednesday, Ross said the U.S. is fighting back against countries that have taken advantage of trade deals in the past.

“Trade wars are fought every single day,” Ross said. “Unfortunately, every single day there are various parties trying to violate the rules and trying to take unfair advantage of things. The difference is that U.S. troops are now coming to the ramparts.”

European stocks dropped. Germany’s DAX and Britain’s FTSE 100 both slumped 1.1%, and the French CAC 40 fell 0.7%.

Texas Instruments slid 8.5% to $109.70 after analysts were disappointed with its revenue forecast for the current quarter. Its competitor Applied Materials declined 1.5% to $56.91, and Nvidia fell 1.3% to $235.80.

Chipmakers have made huge gains in recent months, and Nvidia’s stock price has more than doubled over the last year. Citi Investment Research analyst Christopher Danely said business conditions for chipmakers are weakening after a run of strong results.

United Continental plunged 11.4% to $69.05 after it said it’s planning more aggressive growth over the next few years. It’s aiming to increase its passenger-carrying capacity by 4% to 6% a year through 2020. United has done better recently at handling competition with lower-cost carriers, but investors worried that more flights will mean reduced prices and hurt its profits.

The dollar dropped to 109.05 yen from 110.30 yen. The euro rose to $1.2405 from $1.2294. The ICE U.S. dollar index fell almost 10% in 2017 and is down 3% so far this year.

Gold climbed $19.60, or 1.5%, to $1,356.30 an ounce. Silver rose 58 cents, or 3.4%, to $17.49 an ounce. Copper rose 12 cents, or 3.8%, to $3.23 a pound.

Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.64% from 2.62%. That helped banks because higher yields enable them charge higher interest rates on loans. JPMorgan Chase shares rose 1.3% to $115.67.

Appliance maker Whirlpool, which gets most of its revenue overseas, continued to rally as the falling dollar could boost its sales and aid its earnings. The stock rose 3.5% on Tuesday after the tariffs were announced, and on Wednesday it made its biggest gain in 18 months, rising 4.1% to $178.97.

Benchmark U.S. crude rose $1.14, or 1.8%, to $65.61 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, rose 57 cents to $70.53 a barrel in London.

Wholesale gasoline rose 1 cent to $1.92 a gallon. Heating oil ticked up 2 cents to $2.11 a gallon. Natural gas rose 7 cents to $3.51 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Asian stocks were mixed. Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 slipped 0.8%. The Hang Seng in Hong Kong and South Korea’s Kospi both rose 0.1%.


3:10 p.m.: This article was updated with closing prices, context and analyst comment.

This article was originally published at 9:40 a.m.