Stocks sag at the close; January finishes on weak note

AP News
Posted: Jan 30, 2015 6:06 PM
Stocks sag at the close; January finishes on weak note

The U.S. stock market capped a rough month Friday, delivering its third loss in five days and extending its declines for the year.

All told, the Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 3 percent in January, its worse monthly performance in a year. While the U.S. economy continued to show signs of strength, energy companies suffered from a sharp drop in oil prices and some big multinational companies saw their earnings dinged by a stronger dollar.

On Friday, investors also weighed the consequences of a slowdown in U.S. economic growth and how further strength in the dollar could dent corporate profits.

"The real issue still is the confusion, the uncertainty around the speed of decline in oil prices and what that means, and the rise in the dollar and what that means for earnings," said Bob Doll, chief equity strategist at Nuveen Asset Management.

The concerns about a surging dollar intensified after Russia's central bank unexpectedly cut interest rates to 15 percent from 17 percent to help the weakening economy. That sent the ruble down against the dollar.

Before the U.S. market opened, the government said that the economy grew 2.6 percent in the last quarter of 2014, as weaker government and business spending held growth back. The decline was unexpected and down from a gain of 4.6 percent in the second quarter and 5 percent in the third quarter.

But others news signaled the steady health of the U.S. economy. Consumer spending surged in the final three months of 2014. The Labor Department reported that wages and benefits rose last year by 2.2 percent, the biggest calendar-year increase since 2008

Investors also sifted through the latest batch of corporate earnings news, and the results were mixed. and Visa reported strong results late Thursday. Amazon jumped 13.7 percent, while Visa rose 2.8 percent.

Several companies didn't fare as well, including Ugg footwear maker Deckers Outdoor and the parent of Hawaiian Airlines, which offered discouraging outlooks. Deckers slumped 19.7 percent, while Hawaiian Holdings slid 27 percent.

The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 251.90 points, or 1.5 percent, to close at 17,164.95. The S&P 500 index lost 26.26 points, or 1.3 percent, to 1,994.99. The Nasdaq composite fell 48.17 points, or 1 percent, to 4,635.24.

Nine of the 10 sectors in the S&P 500 fell, and utilities declined the most.

The one sector that rose was energy. Benchmark U.S. crude jumped $3.71 to close at $48.24 a barrel in New York on expectations of lower supplies. The number of working drilling rigs continued to fall, according to a closely-watched industry count. Concerns over an attack on oil-rich Kirkuk, Iraq, by Islamic insurgents also spurred oil buying and higher prices.

While oil had a strong day, it remains in a deep slump. U.S. crude has fallen to $48 a barrel from $107 last June.

Demand for ultra-safe bonds rose Friday. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 1.66 percent Friday, the lowest since May 2013. Yields fall as bond prices rise.

"I think that the bond market is starting to scare equity investors: 'What do they know that I don't?'" said Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Wells Capital Management. "The bond market is telling us that things are getting worse."

The stock of Shake Shack, a burger chain that started as a New York City hot dog cart, more than doubled in their first day of trading. Shake Shack jumped $24.90, or 119 percent, to close at $45.90, putting the market value of the small chain at more than $1.6 billion.

The dollar strengthened against the euro, which slipped to $1.1291 from $1.1327. Gold rose $23.90, or 2 percent, to $1,278.50 an ounce. Silver gained 44 cents, or 3 percent, to $17.21 an ounce. Copper climbed 4 cents, or 2 percent, to $2.49 a pound.

In other energy futures trading:

— Brent crude rose $3.86 to close at $52.99 in London.

— Wholesale gasoline rose 6.1 cents to close at $1.415 a gallon.

— Heating oil rose 6.8 cents to close at $1.686 a gallon.

— Natural gas fell 2.8 cents to close at $2.691 per 1,000 cubic feet.


AP Business Writers Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong and Matt Craft in New York contributed to this story.