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U.S. stocks plunge, wiping out July's gains

Published: Thursday, July 31, 2014 4:44 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Mark Lennihan)
FILE - This April 22, 2010, file photo, shows a Wall Street sign in front of the New York Stock Exchange. U.S. stocks slumped Thursday, July 31, 2014, as investors reacted to disappointing corporate earnings reports and assessed the implications of the approaching end to economic stimulus from the Federal Reserve. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

NEW YORK – For investors, there were few havens on Thursday.

The stock market had its worst one-day drop since February, driven down by a confluence of worries, from weak company earnings to the looming end of stimulus from the Federal Reserve.

But it wasn't just stocks that suffered; oil fell to its lowest level since March, gold dropped and even Treasury notes edged lower.

Stocks started the day lower after a dose of bad earnings news, and the losses accelerated throughout the day.

Whole Foods Market and Exxon Mobil were among companies that fell after reporting results or forecasts that disappointed investors.

The stock market has been on a bull run for more than five years, with the most recent leg of that surge pushing the Standard & Poor's 500 index to an all-time high a week ago. Investors are now getting concerned that stocks may have climbed too far and reflect too much optimism on the outlook for growth.

"We've been on a strong run," said Jerry Braakman, chief investment officer at First American Trust. "There's just more concern that stock valuations are rich compared to historical norms."

The S&P 500 dropped 39.40 points, or 2 percent, to 1,930.67, its biggest loss since April 10. The drop pushed the index to its first monthly loss since January.

The Dow Jones industrial average plunged 317.06 points, or 1.9 percent, to 16,563.30. The Nasdaq composite fell 93.13 points, or 2.1 percent, to 4,369.77. The Russell 2000, an index of small company stocks, plunged 26.50 points, or 2.3 percent, to 1,120.07

Exxon Mobil stock fell $4.31, or 4.2 percent, to $98.94 after the energy company said that oil and gas production slipped 6 percent, disappointing analysts. The decline was driven by the expiration of rights to a field in Abu Dhabi and natural field declines.

Investors are also concerned about the outlook for growth in Europe as tensions escalate between the European Union and Russia after the downing of a passenger plane over Ukraine. The European Union on Thursday revealed the details of broad economic sanctions against Russia.

The main driver behind Thursday's sell-off was a reassessment of the outlook for interest rates in the U.S. said Paul Zemsky, chief investment officer of Multi-Asset Strategies and Solutions at Voya Investment Management.

Fed policymakers said the central bank would make further cuts to its monthly bond purchases, a program that is intended to keep long-term interest rates low and encourage borrowing and spending. Policy makers are also becoming more optimistic about the outlook for the U.S. economy after growth expanded by a better-than-expected 4 percent in the second quarter.

"We're closer to the first move higher in interest rates," said Zemsky. "And there's definitely a camp that believes that the only reason that were at these levels is because the Fed has kept the rates at zero."

Despite Thursday's weak earnings reports, the overall outlook for company profits is still strong, said Zemsky.

Company earnings are still at record levels, and expected to grow by 8.6 percent in the second quarter, according to data from S&P Capital IQ. That compares to growth of 4.9 percent in the same period a year ago and 3.4 percent growth in the first three months of this year.

Gold fell $13.60, or 1.1 percent, to $1,281.30 an ounce. Silver fell 19 cents, or 0.9 percent, to $20.41 an ounce.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell $2.10 to close at $98.17 a barrel in New York, its lowest level since March 17. Oil's high for the year was $107.26, set on June 20; its low was $91.66, set on January 9.

Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell 49 cents Thursday to close at $106.02 in London.

Prices for U.S. government bonds were little changed. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note edged up to 2.57 percent from 2.56 percent on Wednesday.

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