Stocks fall; Dow's longest loss streak in 3 months

U.S. stocks declined for a fourth session on Wednesday as December retail sales failed to live up to expectations and investors worried about global economic growth.

Stocks came off session lows as crude reversed higher and after the release of the Federal Reserve's Beige Book, which had central bankers expressing hopes for better U.S. growth.

"The economy is slowly seeing signs of improving, the overall trend will continue to be modest improvement, but we will be hit with concerns," Robert Pavlik, chief market strategist at Boston Private Wealth, said.

The CBOE Volatility Index, a gauge of investor uncertainty, jumped 4.5 percent to 21.48; the 10-yield Treasury yield fell 6 basis points to 1.8461 percent.

Already sharply lower, stock futures fell harder ahead of the opening bell after the Commerce Department reported retail sales slid the most in a year last month, down 0.9 percent.

"Although consumers are saving at the pump, it doesn't look like they are spending it at the stores; retail sales are an unmitigated disaster," Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities, said.

A later economic report came in as expected, with U.S. business inventories rising 0.2 percent in November.

JPMorgan Chase dropped after reporting a decline in fourth-quarter profit; Wells Fargo also fell after the mortgage lender posted results in line with expectations.

"The good news is that the ECB (European Central Bank) got a positive ruling last night so they can move forward with quantitative easing, unfortunately the bad news is JPMorgan reported a sloppy number," Hogan said.

The ongoing decline in the price of crude extended to metals, with the price of copper stumbling as the World Bank reduced its global growth forecast, pointing to soft expansion in Europe and China.

Symbol
Name
Price
 
Change
%Change
DJIA
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S&P 500
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NASDAQ
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After a 348-point drop, the Dow Jones Industrial Average ended at 17,427.09, off 186.59 points, or 1.1 percent.

JPMorgan Chase led blue-chip losses that included 27 of 30 components.

The S&P 500 dropped 11.76 points, or 0.6 percent, to 2,011.27, with financials weighing the most among its 10 major industries.

The Nasdaq shed 22.18 points, or 0.5 percent, to 4,639.32.

For every two shares rising, roughly three fell on the New York Stock Exchange, where nearly 929 million shares traded. Composite volume neared 4.4 billion.

Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Getty Images
Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, crude prices wavered after an inventory report from the Energy Information Administration, before jumping 5.6 percent to $48.48 a barrel.

Gold also rose, with futures ending at $1,234.50 an ounce.

On Tuesday, U.S. stocks, after a near 300-point rally on the Dow evaporated amid falling commodity prices and worries Germany would throw cold water on the European Central Bank taking additional steps to bolster the region's economy.

"We've gone from day-to-day volatility to intraday volatility," Mark Luschini, chief market strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott, said.

Read More US stocks end modestly lower after rally fizzles

Coming Up This Week:

Thursday

Earnings before the bell: Bank of America, Citigroup

Earnings after the bell: Intel

8:30 a.m.: Jobless claims, weekly

8:30 a.m.: Empire State survey for January

10 a.m.: Philadelphia Fed survey

Friday

Earnings before the bell: Goldman Sachs Group

8:30 a.m.: CPI for December

9:15 a.m.: Capacity utilization for December

10 a.m.: Consumer sentiment, preliminary for January

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