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U.S. stock indexes slip amid unease over Iran tensions

Stock exchange
As tension between the U.S. and Iran ratcheted up Monday, Wall Street investors took a wait-and-see attitude.
(Stan Honda / AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. stocks mostly fell on Tuesday, but the big rush for safety that coursed through global markets after the United States killed a top Iranian general on Friday slowed somewhat in the hours before Iran retaliated with rocket attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq.

Gold’s momentum eased a day after touching its highest price in nearly seven years, several Asian and European stock markets clawed back much of their losses from Monday and benchmark U.S. crude dropped for the first time in four days. The S&P 500 dipped but remained within 0.6% of its record at close of trading, and the measure of fear in the stock market moved lower.

The market’s return to a wait-and-see approach wasn’t that surprising to some investors, even as talk remained tough in the increasingly tense U.S.-Iran confrontation and U.S. officials braced for an Iranian response to their drone strike against Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

The market may be more focused on the upcoming earnings season for U.S. companies and the forecasts that CEOs will give for 2020 profits, said Rich Weiss, senior portfolio manager at American Century Investments. After a year in which the S&P 500 surged roughly 30%, despite profits for big companies falling, he said investors will need to see more solid growth to justify near-record prices.

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“We definitely pay attention and are keeping an eye on” the U.S.-Iran tensions, Weiss said. “But it’s not what we alter investment strategy on.”

“The market seems to be looking right past” the tensions, he said. “I’m much more concerned about the fundamentals. The lack of earnings visibility is troubling.”

The S&P 500 fell 9.10 points, or 0.3%, to 3,237.18. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 119.70, or 0.4%, to 28,583.68, and the Nasdaq composite slipped 2.88, or less than 0.1%, to 9,068.58.

Energy stocks dropped with the price of crude. Benchmark U.S. oil fell 57 cents to settle at $62.70 per barrel. It had jumped more than $2 per barrel over the last two days. Brent crude, the international standard, fell 64 cents to $68.27 a barrel.

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That helped drag Halliburton down 2.8% and Chevron down 1.3%. Apache was an outlier, and the oil and gas producer surged 26.8% for the biggest gain in the S&P 500 after it and Total said they have found a significant amount of oil off the coast of Suriname.

Asian stock markets had some of the day’s strongest gains and clawed back much of their losses from Monday. Japan’s Nikkei 225 jumped 1.6%, South Korea’s Kospi rose 0.9% and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng added 0.3%.


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