Energy, industrial stocks push indexes lower in early trade


Stocks marched lower on Wall Street in Wednesday afternoon trading, placing the market on track for its third straight loss.

Health care, technology and energy companies accounted for the bulk of the market’s slide, offsetting gains in materials and utilities stocks. Several retailers also rose. Smaller companies fell more than the rest of the market.

Disappointing economic reports, uncertainty over trade and fears of a slowdown in economic growth have been weighing on the market the past couple weeks.

New economic data on Wednesday did little to encourage investors. Payroll processor ADP said U.S. businesses added 183,000 jobs in February. A solid gain, but less than the 188,000 that analysts expected. Meanwhile, the Commerce Department said the U.S. trade deficit jumped 19 percent in December, widening the figure to a decade-long high of $621 billion.

The market has been swayed in recent days by hopes that the U.S. and China will resolve their trade dispute. Media reports are back-and-forth on both sides being close to a deal that would pull back on tariffs, and alternately hitting a rough spot on some key items.

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General Electric led the sell-off among companies in the S&P 500. The conglomerate’s CEO said the company will be left with no extra funds in 2019. Exxon Mobil also declined after the energy company said it would increase spending.

Retail stocks rose for the second day. Abercrombie & Fitch surged after reporting results that were much better than analysts expected.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 115 points, or 0.5 percent, to 25,690 as of 2:50 p.m. Eastern Time. The S&P 500 index dropped 0.5 percent and the Nasdaq composite lost 0.8 percent. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies gave up 1.6 points. Major European stock indexes also fell.

ANALYST’S TAKE: “We’re just waiting for some news that will give us some direction,” said Tracie McMillion, head of global asset allocation at Wells Fargo Investment Institute.

The market got clarity on some uncertainties over the last month, including the Federal Reserve’s strategy and prospects for a U.S.-China trade deal, she said. But investors now face other concerns including a potential global slowdown and increased government debt.

NOT FEELING WELL: Health care stocks led the market decline. Nektar Therapeutics slumped 4.9 percent.

EMPTY PURSE: General Electric slid 7.4 percent after the conglomerate’s CEO said it will be left with no extra funds in 2019.

GE has shrunk considerably since becoming entangled in the financial crisis a decade ago and has sought to divest even more of its businesses. Despite ongoing struggles in its power division, GE posted better-than-expected revenue last quarter on the strength of its other business segments.

NOT SO SLICK: Exxon Mobil fell 1.8 percent after the energy company said it would increase spending. Exxon was one of many energy stocks trading lower. Hess was down 4.5 percent, while Halliburton slid 4.6 percent.

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RETAIL RISES AGAIN: A solid fourth quarter and forecast pushed shares of Abercrombie & Fitch 21.4 percent higher. The retailer beat an important industry sales measure on gains at its Hollister brand.

Abercrombie’s results come a day after Target and Kohl’s reported solid earnings and forecasts. The strong results came as a pleasant surprise for investors, considering that overall retail sales fell broadly in December.

Among other retailers, Tailored Brands rose 3.4 percent.

MAKEOVER: Dollar Tree gained 5.7 percent after the discount retail chain said it is closing up to 390 Family Dollar stores this year and rebranding about 200 others under the Dollar Tree name.

The company also slashed the value of its struggling Family Dollar chain, booking a $2.73 billion charge in its fiscal fourth quarter.

Dollar Tree acquired Family Dollar in 2015 for almost $9 billion. The move was expected to bolster its business and better battle chains like Walmart and rival Dollar General, but Family Dollar has struggled and pulled down the parent company’s earnings.

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