Wall Street finished a volatile session with a loss Wednesday as investors struggled to digest a mix of earnings reports and weighed the odds of a yearend rally that would give the flagging stock market a boost.
Disappointing earnings from Boeing Co. and a lower-than-expected holiday sales forecast from Amazon.com Inc. pressured the major indexes for much of the session despite other positive earnings reports. The divergent news from corporations left investors wondering whether the usual “Santa Claus” rally, which boosted stocks for each of the last four years, would take place.
“It’s been a mixed earnings season so far. For every large company that’s given you good numbers, you’ve had some disappointment from big names,” said Russ Koesterich, senior portfolio manager at Barclays Global Investments in San Francisco. “On top of that, you don’t have any real positive outlooks for the fourth quarter and the Federal Reserve is still hawkish on inflation. So what do you do? You trade around in this range and go nowhere, really.”
Crude oil futures also fluctuated, contributing to the uncertainty. After rising as high as $63 per barrel, futures fell $1.78 to $60.66 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 32.89, or 0.32 percent, to 10,344.98.
Broader stock indicators also lost ground. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index dropped 5.16, or 0.43 percent, to 1,191.38, and the Nasdaq composite index lost 9.40, or 0.45 percent, to 2,100.05.
Bonds slid to their lowest levels since March on persistent concerns about the Federal Reserve’s possible stance on inflation under Ben Bernanke, nominated for the chairmanship earlier this week. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 4.59 percent from 4.53 percent late Tuesday. The dollar rose against most major currencies, while gold prices fell.
For some investors, Boeing’s lagging sales reflected the pressures on the airline industry, Boeing’s main customer, which is struggling with higher fuel costs. While Boeing’s profit doubled from the previous year and the company issued an upbeat forecast, the effects of the strike were far greater than analysts had expected, and Boeing stock fell $1.87 to $65.10.
Amazon tumbled $6.42, or 14 percent, to $39.75 after issuing its disappointing fourth-quarter sales forecast. The Internet retailer beat Wall Street’s profit forecasts by 2 cents per share for the third quarter before one-time charges, but the forecast led analysts at Citigroup and Deutsche Bank to downgrade Amazon’s stock.
Positive earnings, while offsetting the big-name losses, added to investors’ uncertainty. Automatic Data Processing Inc., the payroll, tax and transaction processor, climbed $2.44, or 5.6 percent, to $45.99 after reporting profits that beat Wall Street forecasts by 3 cents per share and issuing a bullish fourth-quarter profit forecast.
“I look at a stock like ADP and I see a company that’s far more indicative of the health of the economy than Amazon,” said Janna Sampson, director of portfolio management at Oakbrook Investments. “Their trades are up on the finance side and the increase in payroll business looks good for employment overall. If they’re raising their forecasts, they’re seeing good things this quarter on a lot of fronts.”
Dow component Wal-Mart Stores Inc. remains optimistic about the holiday season, according to its chief executive, despite high gasoline and heating costs that threaten to eat into customers’ disposable income this winter. Wal-Mart added 19 cents to $45.58.
Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. lost $1.26 to $57.76 after the company said it would sell up to $4 billion in non-core assets over the next year. The operator of the Westin and Sheraton hotel chains said it would use the proceeds for reinvestment and share repurchases.
Declining issues outnumbered advancers by about 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange, where preliminary consolidated volume came to 2.48 billion shares, compared to 2.32 billion traded on Tuesday.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 4.32, or 0.67 percent, to 638.41.
Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average climbed 0.86 percent. In Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 closed up 0.88 percent, France’s CAC-40 gained 0.36 percent for the session, and Germany’s DAX index rose 0.57 percent.