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Wage worries sink stocks

US stocks gave up a promising start and finished mostly lower as investors continued to worry about lagging wages and energy companies dropped with the price of oil.

Stocks climbed early on as a solid quarter from Morgan Stanley revived optimism about banks, and strong results from car and industrial parts distributor Genuine Parts sent car makers and suppliers higher.

The gains began to fade though as oil prices and energy companies sagged. The losses accelerated after the mid-afternoon release of the Federal Reserve's "Beige Book" survey of economic conditions.

The Fed said economic growth continued from mid-March into early April and pay improved for some workers. But investors have been wondering when rising statistics like consumer confidence will start to turn into better pay and greater spending.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index finished down 4.02 points, or 0.2%, at 2,338.17. It rose as much as 10 points, or 0.4%, earlier. The Dow lost 118.79 points, or 0.6%, to 20,404.49. Half of the blue-chip index's losses came from IBM, which reported weaker-than-expected sales in the first quarter.

The Nasdaq composite rose 13.56 points, or 0.2%, to 5,863.03 as health care companies climbed. And there were signs of optimism about the economy as well. The Russell 2000 index, which is made up of smaller companies that tend to be more US-focused, added 5.24 points, or 0.4%, to 1,367.13 after a late gain a day ago.

Oil prices slumped after the Energy Information Administration said US crude inventories didn't shrink as much as investors hoped they would, and the EIA says the stockpiles are larger than normal for this time of year.

Benchmark US crude lost 1.97 dollars, or 3.8%, to 50.44 dollars a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell 1.96 dollars, or 3.6%, to 52.93 dollars per barrel in London.

All 34 energy companies on the S&P 500 finished lower. Chevron 1.45 dollars, or 1.4%, to 104.23 dollars and Marathon Oil sank 68 cents, or 4.3%, to 15.06 dollars.

Technology and consulting company IBM slumped after it reported 18.16 billion dollars in revenue in the first quarter, and according to FactSet, that was more than 200 million dollars below analysts' estimates.

IBM stock fell 8.36 dollars, or 4.9%, to 161.69 dollars. It was the second day in a row that a weak report from a single company pulled the Dow sharply lower, as Goldman Sachs did the same on Tuesday.

Genuine Parts raised its profit forecast for the year, although it acknowledged its US business has been weak. Its stock jumped 2% to 91.91 dollars.

The dollar rose to 108.70 yen from 108.42 yen. The euro edged down to 1.0721 dollars from 1.0730 dollars.

British stocks continued to fall. The FTSE 100 slid 0.5% after a 2.5% plunge on Tuesday. Other major European indexes recovered modestly. In France the CAC-40 gained 0.3% and Germany's DAX edged up 0.1%. In Japan the Nikkei 225 edged up 0.1% and the South Korean Kospi shed 0.5%. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index fell 0.4%.

AP

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