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Stocks have their biggest drop since August as healthcare shares swoon

Ronald Madarasz
A man works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
(Richard Drew / Associated Press)

Hefty losses by healthcare and technology companies led U.S. stocks sharply lower Tuesday, handing the market its biggest pullback since August and its worst two-day drop since May.

The broad slide, which briefly sent the Dow Jones industrial average down by more than 400 points, erased some of the big gains the market had racked up since the beginning of the year. The market was still on track to close out January with a gain, though.

Banks, industrial companies and energy stocks also accounted for a big slice of the market’s losses. Bond prices fell, sending yields to their highest level since April 2014.

“This was a market that was overbought, and it was vulnerable to something pulling it back,” said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial. “That said, we’re in the heaviest part of earnings season this week, and we expect to see the majority of the reports coming out to be positive. That could be the catalyst to have buyers come in.”

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The Standard & Poor’s 500 index slid 31.10 points, or 1.1%, to 2,822.43. That was its biggest one-day drop since Aug. 17. The Dow had its biggest decline since May, sinking 362.59 points, or 1.4%, to 26,076.89. Earlier in the day, it was down more than 411 points. The Nasdaq slumped 64.02 points, or 0.9%, to 7,402.48. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks fell 15.29 points, or 1%, to 1,582.82. The market’s last two-day losing streak was in late December.

Healthcare companies were by far the biggest losers Tuesday. The sector dropped 2.1%. It’s still up 8.1% this year.

Insurers, drugmakers and distributors slumped after news that Amazon was teaming up with JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway to create a company that helps their U.S. employees find quality healthcare at a reasonable cost. The venture, whose initial focus would be on developing technology, is in its early planning stage.

Express Scripts fell 3.2% to $79.31. Cigna sank 7.2% to $207.89. UnitedHealth Group slid 4.3%, to $236.65. Anthem declined 5.3% to $243.44.

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HCA bucked the trend, rising 3.9% to $101.45 after the hospital chain posted better fourth-quarter results than analysts had expected.

Amazon rose 1.4% to $1,437.82. JPMorgan and Berkshire Hathaway each slipped less than 1%.

Technology stocks fell almost as much as healthcare shares. Corning slid 5.6% to $32.33.

Bond prices continued to decline, driving up the yield on the 10-year Treasury to 2.72% from 2.70%. That’s the highest the rate has been since April 2014. The yield was as low as 2.04% last September.

Bond yields have been rising steadily over the last few months, making bonds more appealing to investors who are seeking income. Rising yields can also lead to higher financing costs for companies, home buyers and other borrowers.

“With the 10-year rate shooting above 2.7%, the cost of capital for equity investments also just increased,” said Alexandra Coupe, associated director for Pacific Alternative Asset Management Co. “Investors are stepping back and reevaluating if their holdings can surpass this revised hurdle.”

The market sell-off comes during a busy week.

Several big-name companies are due to report quarterly results Wednesday and Thursday, including Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook and Alphabet, Google’s parent company.

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Also on investors’ radar: Tuesday night’s State of the Union address and a two-day meeting of the Federal Reserve’s policymaking committee that wraps up Wednesday.

The Fed has signaled it expects to raise its key short-term interest rate three times this year. But some investors speculated that the growing strength in the U.S. economy and labor market could prompt the central bank to forecast an extra rate increase this year.

Energy-sector stocks declined along with the price of crude oil. Noble Energy shares fell 5.4% to $30.40.

Benchmark U.S. crude slid $1.06, or 1.6%, to settle at $64.50 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell 44 cents, or 0.6%, to close at $69.02 a barrel in London.

Wholesale gasoline fell 4 cents to $1.90 a gallon. Heating oil fell 3 cents to $2.07 a gallon. Natural gas rose 3 cents to $3.20 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold fell $4.90 to $1,335.40 an ounce. Silver fell 7 cents to $17.06 an ounce. Copper fell 1 cent to $3.19 a pound.

The dollar fell to 108.78 yen from 108.94 yen. The euro rose to $1.2404 from $1.2389.

Major indexes in Europe declined as investors worried that new data showing the eurozone grew in 2017 at its fastest pace in a decade could prompt the European Central Bank to wind down its monetary stimulus program earlier than expected. The DAX in Germany lost 1%. The CAC 40 in France fell 0.9%. Britain’s FTSE 100 gave up 1.1%.

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Key indexes in Asia also fell. Japan’s Nikkei 225 index lost 1.4%, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng dropped 1.1%. South Korea’s Kospi sank 1.2%.


UPDATES:

3:40 p.m.: This article was updated with closing prices, context and analyst comment.

This article was originally published at 7:05 a.m.


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