Tuesday, December 03, 2013 5:57 pm
Stocks sink as US consumer spending worries deepen
By KEN SWEETAP Markets Writer
Stocks fell Tuesday, dragged lower by the Detroit automakers and consumer-focused companies such as GameStop and Amazon.com. The market could be headed for its first weekly decline since early October, putting at risk a remarkable rally that has sent indexes to record highs.
The declines do not come as a surprise to large investors, many of whom have predicted a pullback. The Standard & Poor's 500 index has surged 26 percent in 2013, on track for its best year in a decade.
If stocks paused, declined or even entered a "correction," a Wall Street term for when an index falls 10 percent or more, it would be normal after eight straight weeks of gains.
"The markets may have stalled out here, but that must be taken in the context of what has been a great year," said Alec Young, global equity strategist with S&P Capital IQ.
The Dow Jones industrial average lost 94.15 points, or 0.6 percent, to 15,914.62. The S&P 500 index fell 5.75 points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,795.15 and the Nasdaq composite fell 8.06 points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,037.20.
Companies that depend heavily on consumer spending had some of the biggest losses. GameStop, the video game retailer, sank $1.02, or 2 percent, to $45.95, one of the worst declines in the S&P 500 index. Amazon.com fell $7.64, or 2 percent, to $384.66.
Automakers fell. General Motors lost 97 cents, or 3 percent, to $38.14. Ford fell 50 cents, or 3 percent, to $16.56, despite what auto industry analysts considered mostly positive sales reports for November.
The sell-off in auto stocks was a surprise to industry analysts. Chrysler sales rose 16 percent in November compared with a year earlier, while GM and Ford's sales increased 14 percent and 7 percent, respectively. Overall, the industry reported a 9 percent year-over-year sales gain.
Investors are waiting for several economic reports later this week that could influence whether the Federal Reserve will pare back its $85 billion-a-month bond-buying program. The program is designed to keep interest rates low and stimulate the economy.
"When you look at how markets have performed this year, some investors may have decided to cash in, put their feet up and drink eggnog," said Lawrence Creatura, a portfolio manager with Federated Investors.
On Friday, the government will release its monthly job market survey, one of the most closely watched indicators of the U.S. economy. Economists expect that employers created 180,000 jobs last month while the unemployment rate remained steady at 7.2 percent, according to FactSet, a financial information provider.
Investors have seen encouraging economic news recently. A trade group reported Monday that manufacturing was growing in the U.S. at the fastest pace in two and a half years. The group also said factories were hiring at the quickest rate in 18 months.
A strong economy is good for corporate profits - and stocks - over the long term. But if the economy is getting stronger, it means the Fed could pull back its stimulus, which has supported financial markets. The Fed's huge bond-buying program has been giving investors an incentive to buy stocks by making bonds look more expensive in comparison.
"The concern in the near term is that, since the economic data is picking up steam, the Fed could pull back as soon as January," Young said.
On Thursday, investors will consider an updated report on U.S. economic growth. Economists expect the economy expanded at a 3.2 percent annual rate last quarter.
A key worry for investors is how willing U.S. consumers are to spend during the holiday shopping season, which is just getting underway.
A record number of people shopped over the four-day Thanksgiving weekend, the National Retail Federation said Monday. However, the average amount spent by each shopper fell compared with the same period last year. It was the first decline since the trade group began tracking the figures in 2006.
In the municipal bond market, where cities and states go to borrow money, attention was focused on a ruling that allowed Detroit to enter bankruptcy to relieve its crushing debt. Detroit is the largest public bankruptcy in U.S. history.
Tuesday's ruling was widely expected, so it had little immediate impact on the market, said Patrick Stoffel, a municipal analyst at Wells Fargo Advisors.
More crucial for the wider market will be how the judge rules on the city's plan for exiting bankruptcy, he said. A ruling that allows the city to repay only a fraction to the holders of its so-called general obligation debt could push up borrowing costs for cities in the future.
In company news:
Yum Brands fell $2.10, or 3 percent, to $75.61. The owner of KFC and Taco Bell said sales in China, a key market for the company, have been sluggish because of concerns among Chinese customers about food safety.
Abercrombie & Fitch rose $1.97, or 6 percent, to $35.99. The stock of the teen clothing store owner rose after an activist shareholder, Engaged Capital, sent a letter to the company demanding that CEO Michael Jeffries be replaced.