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US stocks close lower as oil falls nearly 2.5 percent; energy lags

Stocks closed lower on Wednesday as the recent rally in equities eased and investors digested falling oil prices, as well as quarterly results from retail firms.

The benchmark S&P 500 closed 6 point lower, as energy — the biggest laggard — dropped approximately 1.4 percent.

"It looks like a normal, healthy pullback," said Adam Sarhan, CEO at Sarhan Capital. "Even under the surface, ... we see orderly selling."

"At this point in time, investors are looking for a reason to sell, and they can't find it," he said. "As long as these pullbacks are short, the bulls remain in control."

The Dow Jones industrial average dropped about 40 points lower, with ExxonMobil contributing the most losses.

"I think the market is generally complacent, so any bit of news will move the market one way or the other," said Arian Vojdani, investment strategist at MV Financial. "Last year, it was similar. Volumes were low, the market was complacent, and then we got the big news from China."

The Nasdaq composite underperformed, closing about 0.4 percent lower, as Apple fell 0.7 percent and the iShares Nasdaq Biotechnology ETF (IBB) dropped nearly 2 percent.

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

Oil futures seesawed Wednesday, with U.S. crude 2.48 percent lower, at $41.71 lower after the Energy Information Administration's weekly inventories data release. The data showed U.S. commercial crude inventories rose by 1.1 million barrels to a total of 523.6 million last week. Analysts expected the EIA to cite a drawdown of about 1 million barrels each in both domestic crude and gasoline inventories.

David Kelly, chief global strategist at JPMorgan Funds. said a build in inventories may pressure oil prices, but the knock-on effect on equities should not be small. "The world is awash in oil, but it's not because the economy is faltering," he said.

Before the bell, Michael Kors posted quarterly results that beat expectations on both lines, but the stock was down 2.5 percent. Meanwhile, Ralph Lauren shares popped more than 9 percent after its earnings came in sharply above expectations.

"The one think that we've found with the consumer ... is people have really over-estimated the impact of lower energy prices for the consumer," said Nick Raich, CEO of The Earnings Scout.

Kohl's, Macy's and Nordstrom are scheduled to post results on Thursday.

U.S. stocks have traded in a tight range recently, while the CBOE Volatility index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, has held near one-year lows. On Wednesday, the Vix traded 7 percent higher, near 12.5.

"Barring a shock, I think the market is going to be pretty quiet over the next few weeks," JPMorgan's Kelly said.

"I think we'll be relatively flat for a while for two reasons. First, Earnings season is mostly over, and that created positive support for stocks. Second, economic news ... is expected to be mixed," said Kate Warne, investment strategist at Edward Jones. "Overall, we're looking at a flat market for a while as investors reassess [the recent rally]."

That said, the S&P and the Nasdaq notched all-time intraday highs Tuesday.

"Stretched valuations have made it difficult for value managers to put money to work. The economic data remains mixed as evidenced by yesterday's lousy Productivity report," Jeremy Klein, chief market strategist at FBN Securities, said in a Wednesday note to clients.

"The bulls have had their way with the bears after the broader indices bottomed in the immediate aftermath of United Kingdom's referendum pertaining to its status within the European Union. Although a significant amount of long term uncertainty surrounds Brexit, the fears associated with the shocking result on June 23 seems comical in hindsight," Klein said.

On the data front, the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary (JOLTS) report showed an increase to 5.624 million job openings in June.

U.S. Treasurys advanced, with the two-year note yield falling to about 0.7 percent, while the benchmark 10-year yield held around 1.51 percent. The Treasury Department sold $23 billion worth of 10-year notes at a high yield of 1.503. The auction saw weak demand.

The dollar fell against a basket of currencies, with the euro rising to $1.117 and the yen falling to 101.3.

Overseas, European equities traded slightly lower, with the Stoxx 600 index slipping 0.2 percent. In Asia, the Shanghai composite fell 0.23 percent, while the Nikkei 2225 dropped 0.18 percent.

Symbol
Name
Price
 
Change
%Change
DJIA
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S&P 500
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NASDAQ
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The Dow Jones industrial average closed 37.39 points lower, or 0.2 percent, at 18,495.66, with ExxonMobil leading decliners and Wal -Mart the top advancer.

The S&P 500 fell 6.25 point, or 0.29 percent, to end at 2,175.49, with energy leading six sectors lower and consumer staples leading advancers.

The Nasdaq composite closed 20.90 points lower, or 0.4 percent, at 5,204.58.

Decliners were a step ahead of advancers at the New York Stock Exchange, with an exchange volume of 749.35 million and a composite volume of 3.181 billion at the close.

Gold futures for December delivery settled $5.20 higher at $1,351.90 per ounce.

—Reuters contributed to this report.

On tap this week:

*Planner subject to change.

Wednesday

Earnings: Shake Shack, Blue Buffalo, Flowers Foods

Thursday

Earnings: Alibaba, Macy's, Kohl's, Nordstrom, Petrobras, Planet Fitness, Ruby Tuesday

8:30 a.m. Initial claims

8:30 a.m. Import prices

1 p.m. $15 billion 30-year auction

Friday

8:30 a.m. Retail sales

8:30 a.m. PPI

10 a.m. Consumer sentiment

10 a.m. Business inventories