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Monday December 9th, 2019 7:39AM

US stocks drop as traders weigh odds for steep Fed rate cut

By The Associated Press
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Technology and health care companies drove U.S. stocks to a lower finish Monday as the market fell for a second straight day following a run of record highs.

The selling came amid growing speculation on Wall Street that an unexpectedly strong pickup in U.S. employment growth last month may keep the Federal Reserve from aggressively cutting its benchmark interest rate. Many investors still expect a cut of a quarter percentage point, but fewer are now expecting a half-point reduction.

The market rallied through much of June after the central bank signaled that it's prepared to lower interest rates to offset slowing global growth and the fallout from U.S. trade conflicts. The benchmark S&P 500 index closed at record highs three days in a row last week before stumbling Friday following a report showed U.S. employers added a robust 224,000 jobs in June and stoked uncertainty about the Fed's next move on interest rates.

"We're getting an equity market that is taking a breather after five weeks of superb performance," said Bill Northey, senior investment director at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. "And we're on the eve of the beginning of second quarter earnings season, so it's simply an equity market taking a breather between those events."

The S&P 500 fell 14.46 points, or 0.5%, to 2,975.95. The index is now about 0.7% below its all-time high set Wednesday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average slid 115.98 points, or 0.4%, to 26,806.14. The Nasdaq composite lost 63.41 points, or 0.8%, to 8,098.38. The Russell 2000 index of smaller company stocks dropped 14.24 points, or 0.9%, to 1,561.39.

Major stock indexes in Europe also finished lower.

The Fed's benchmark interest rate currently stands in a range of 2.25% to 2.5% and the central bank has not cut rates since the Great Recession in 2008. Last year, Fed officials raised rates four times, in part to stave off the risk of high inflation and in part to try to ensure that they would have room to cut rates if the economy stumbled.

On Friday, the Fed emphasized that it would act as necessary to sustain the economic expansion, while noting that most Fed officials have lowered their expectations for the course of rates. The Fed's statement came in its semiannual report on monetary policy.

Investors will be listening closely for any hints on the central bank's interest rate policy on Wednesday and Thursday, when Powell delivers the Fed's semi-annual monetary report to Congress.

"Looking to the Fed funds futures markets, you see the potential for one to two more additional rate cuts between now and year-end," Northey said. "There's a trajectory of easing that is likely to be forthcoming, that is already reflected in capital markets and not likely to change materially based on the testimony later this week."

Besides keeping an eye on the Fed and on any developments with the ongoing trade talks between the U.S. and China, investors are looking ahead to the flood of earnings reports that companies are set to begin releasing later this month.

Expectations are generally low, and this could be the first time in three years that S&P 500 companies report a back-to-back decline in overall earnings, according to FactSet.

Technology and health care stocks led the market's slide Monday. Apple dropped 2.1% and Cardinal Health slid 1.5%. Communication services companies also declined broadly. Google parent Alphabet fell 1.4% and TripAdvisor lost 4.3%.

Banks also declined. Bank of New York Mellon slid 3.4%.

Traders shifted money into U.S. government bonds and sectors seen as less risky, including household goods makers and real estate. Conagra Brands gained 1.5% and AvalonBay Communities added 1.1%.

Energy stocks rose along with the price of crude oil. Helmerich & Payne gained 1.1%.

MDC Holdings jumped 9.7% after the homebuilder issued preliminary second-quarter results that show orders for new homes jumped 32% from a year earlier. That helped spur homebuilders broadly higher. Beazer Homes USA rose 1.5%.

Bond prices fell, shedding early gains. That sent the yield on the 10-year Treasury note to 2.05% from 2.04% late Friday. Bond yields fell through much of June as investors' expectations of a Fed rate cut increased.

Deutsche Bank was among the market's more notable movers Monday. The struggling German company tumbled 6.1% after it disclosed plans to cut 18,000 jobs by 2022 as it shrinks its investment banking division. It says the move is part of a sweeping restructuring aimed at restoring consistent profitability and improving returns to its shareholders.

F5 Networks slid 3.8% after an analyst at Goldman Sachs downgraded the stock, saying the provider of cloud computing services for mobile apps faces risks amid weaker short-term business spending and rising competition.

Energy futures closed mostly lower. Benchmark crude oil rose 15 cents to settle at $57.66 a barrel. Brent crude oil, the international standard, fell 12 cents to close at $64.11 a barrel. Wholesale gasoline fell 3 cents to $1.90 per gallon. Heating oil declined 1 cent to $1.90 per gallon. Natural gas rose 2 cents to $2.40 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold rose 30 cents to $1,397.00 per ounce, silver rose 5 cents to $14.97 per ounce and copper was unchanged at $2.66 per pound.

The dollar rose to 108.72 Japanese yen from 108.58 yen on Friday. The euro weakened to $1.1212 from $1.1222.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP Business, AP Business - Economy, AP Business - Financial Markets, AP Business - Industries, AP Business - Financial Services
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