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Stocks lose momentum, and oil has another wild day

Wall Street
The stocks that fell included those of healthcare companies, tech titans and winners of the stay-at-home economy such as Netflix and Amazon. Above, a street sign outside the New York Stock Exchange.
(Mark Lennihan / Associated Press)

Wall Street jostled to a mixed finish Tuesday as former stalwarts ran out of momentum and some of the market’s most beaten-down stocks turned into winners.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index ended down 0.5% after stocks that have held up the best through this year’s sell-off fell to some of the market’s sharpest drops. They included healthcare companies, tech titans and winners of the stay-at-home economy such as Netflix and Amazon.

Those are big companies, so their movements have a big effect on the S&P 500. But nearly twice as many stocks rose in the index than fell. Among the winners were travel companies, shopping-mall owners and other businesses that got hammered after widespread stay-at-home orders locked away their customers. Some nations and U.S. states are gradually lifting restrictions implemented to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The S&P 500 ended the day with a loss of 15.09 points at 2,863.39, its first decline in three days. The index was up as much as 1.5% in the morning but then quickly fell, and it spent much of the day flipping between small gains and losses.

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Oil prices had another wild day. U.S. oil for delivery in June fell close to $10 a barrel before paring its losses, as swelling supplies continue to far exceed demand.

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The fluctuations are a sign of a market still dominated by uncertainty about how the recession caused by the coronavirus outbreak will play out, said Tom Martin, senior portfolio manager at Globalt Investments.

“The market is kind of biding its time, in a sense, and waiting to see what happens with regard to the virus itself,” he said. “The thing that matters the most to stocks is how much longer is this going to last. And sure, we can reopen, but how slow is that going to be? And even if it becomes more rapid, is there going to be a second wave or a resurgence” of infections?

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Like the stocks within the market, the day’s leader board for U.S. indexes was close to a mirror opposite of the indexes’ performance for the year.

The Nasdaq, which is dominated by big tech stocks and is the only major U.S. index that’s up over the last year, fell 122.43 points, or 1.4%, to 8,607.73. The Russell 2000, which got beat up more than the rest of the market on worries about small companies’ financial strength, climbed 16.20 points, or 1.3%, to 1,298.08.

The Dow Jones industrial average slipped 32.23 points, or 0.1%, to 24,101.55. It gave up its gains after a report in the morning showed U.S. consumer confidence fell to its lowest level in nearly six years.

With massive aid in place for the world’s economies from central banks and governments, stocks have been rising in recent weeks on anticipation that stay-at-home orders will gradually lift as infections level off in some hard-hit areas. Data continue to pile up showing the economic devastation that followed worldwide orders for businesses to shut down, but some investors are looking past those numbers to the prospect of a return to growth in the future.

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“Hope is trumping caution this week so far,” said Katie Nixon, chief investment officer at Northern Trust Wealth Management.

Harley-Davidson jumped 15.2% after laying out plans to slash costs and preserve cash, including a cut of its dividend and a halt to its stock-buyback program. Norwegian Cruise Line rose 14.4%, and Kimco Realty, which owns shopping centers, advanced 9.1%

Companies whose fortunes are tied most closely to the strength of the economy also led the way. Energy stocks rose 2.2%, the biggest gain among the 11 sectors that make up the S&P 500. Raw-material producers were close behind with a gain of 2%.

On the opposite side was Netflix, whose stock set record highs recently as viewers around the world remained stuck at home. It slipped 4.2%. Other stay-at-home winners also fell, including a 2.6% drop for Amazon and a 1.1% decline for Clorox, whose disinfecting wipes have seen a surge in demand.

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Many professional investors are skeptical of the stock market’s big rally, which has driven the S&P 500 up 28% since hitting a low late last month. Besides the possibility that premature reopenings of economies could lead to another wave of infections, they’re wary of how quickly stocks have risen — nearly as fast as they had dropped in anticipation of a severe recession.

The economy’s recovery may drag for a while as people tiptoe back to their old life and shopping patterns. That disconnect between a quick rebound for stocks and a potentially slower recovery for the economy could cause a reckoning later.

Treasury yields, which had sent warning signals about the disastrous economic effects of the pandemic long before the stock market did, were down.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 0.61% from 0.65%. Yields tend to fall when investors are downgrading expectations for the economy and inflation.

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Inflation recently has been weighed down by a plunge in oil prices. With airplanes, autos and factories idled, demand for energy
has collapsed and producers have not cut back quickly enough. The extra oil has flowed into storage tanks, which are close to reaching their limits.

A barrel of U.S. oil for delivery in June fell 44 cents, or 3.4%, to $12.34 in volatile trading. It dropped as low as $10.07 earlier in the day. Brent crude, the international standard, rose 47 cents, or 2.4%, to $20.46 a barrel.


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