US Markets

Stocks close lower in choppy trade as a Fed meeting, US election loom

Bracing for uncertainty ahead of the election

U.S. equities fell on Tuesday, the first trading day of the month, as recent election news and a Federal Reserve meeting sent jitters through the market.

"Earnings have been better than expected, and that would typically be a catalyst. But that is being negated by the noise on the political front," said Bruce Bittles, chief investment strategist at Baird. "If [Donald Trump] were to win, that would set up a sort-of Brexit moment."

The Dow Jones industrial average briefly fell about 200 points in afternoon trade and momentarily broke below 18,000, with Apple contributing the most losses, before closing about 100 points lower.

"There's not a major move on fundamentals, but with investors a little bit skittish, it does make sense to see some selling," said Mike Bailey, director of research at FBB Capital Partners. "I think investors just have itchier trigger fingers right now."

The S&P 500 gave back its initial gains to close about 0.7 percent lower, momentarily breaking below 2,100 for the first time since early July, with real estate falling 2 percent to lead decliners. The Nasdaq composite also dropped more than 1 percent before closing about 0.7 percent lower.

"You've seen the VIX going higher and you saw the SPX fall below the 2,126 level and now we're looking at 2,100 for support," said JJ Kinahan, chief strategist at TD Ameritrade. The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, rose more than 10 percent Tuesday, last holding near 19.

Investors also kept an eye on the Fed, as the central bank began a two-day meeting Tuesday. While the central bank is largely expected to keep interest rates unchanged at this meeting, market expectations for a December rate hike are more than 70 percent.

"This is just the agitation that happens around a Fed rate hike and since we only do it once a year people get nervous about it, said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities. "The meeting is going to come and go and we're going to have the same hawkish message we had at the September" meeting.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
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U.S. Treasurys recovered initial losses, with the two-year note yield trading near 0.83 percent and the benchmark 10-year yield around 1.83 percent. Earlier, the benchmark yield hit a high of around 1.88 percent. In Europe, sovereign bond yields also rose, with prices in Spain, the United Kingdom and Italy falling.

"In the US, Treasury yields are also near the highs of the day and the credit weakness is spilling over into high yield and investment grade," said Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at The Lindsey Group, in a note. "Can this also be a post 'James Comey FBI poll bounce for Trump' selloff? Maybe but I argue the movement in interest rates is many more times important for markets heading into 2017 than who the next President will be."

Meanwhile, on the election front, market expectations that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton would win were thrown into flux last week, when FBI Director James Comey said in a letter the agency was looking into new emails related to the former secretary of State.

An NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll released Monday afternoon showed Clinton's 6-point lead over Republican nominee Donald Trump remains virtually unchanged. That said, data compiled by RealClearPolitics shows Clinton's lead over Trump has narrowed significantly since last week.

"When investors step back and rationally look at the U.S. Presidential election I believe most will likely realize that the leading candidate will most likely prevail," Robert Pavlik, chief market strategist at Boston Private Wealth, said in a note. "What will truly decide the future of the United States over the course of the next four years will likely be the results in the Congressional races."

In economic news, the October read on the Markit manufacturing PMI came in at 53.4, above September's number of 51.5. The ISM manufacturing index for October met expectations at 51.9, while construction spending data for September missed consensus.

In corporate news, earnings season continued, with Dow component Pfizer reporting weaker-than-expected results, while Coach posted in-line earnings and sales below consensus.

Still, Wunderlich's Hogan said "the earnings parade continues to come in nicely. I think we now have a sizable sample where we can say earnings were better than expected."

According to data from The Earnings Scout, 70 percent of the 328 S&P 500 components that had reported as of Tuesday morning exceeded expectations, while 55 percent beat revenue estimates.

Overseas, European equities traded mostly lower, with the pan-European Stoxx 600 index falling about 1 percent. In Asia, the Nikkei 225 closed marginally higher after the Bank of Japan held monetary policy steady.

Major U.S. Indexes

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 105.32 points, or 0.58 percent, to close at 18,037.10, with Pfizer leading decliners and Chevron the top advancer.

The dropped 14.43 points, or 0.68 percent, to end at 2,111.72, with real estate leading 10 sectors lower and energy the only riser.

The Nasdaq fell 35.56 points, or 0.69 percent, to close at 5,153.58.

About three stocks declined for every advancer at the New York Stock Exchange, with an exchange volume of 1.065 billion and a composite volume of 4.463 billion at the close.

U.S. crude prices for December delivery fell 0.41 percent to settle at $46.67 per barrel. Gold futures for December delivery rose $14.90 to settle at $1,288 per ounce.

The dollar slipped against a basket of currencies, with the euro near $1.106 and the yen around 104.

On tap this week:


Fed meeting begins

Monthly vehicle sales


Earnings: Facebook, AIG, Qualcomm, MetLife, Allstate, Continental Resources, Avis Budget, 21st Century Fox, Allergan, Time Warner, Anthem, Clorox, Alibaba, Fitbit, Estee Lauder, Delphi Automotive, TransCanada, Zoetis, Yelp, NY Times, Och-Ziff Capial Management, Kate Spade, Whole Foods, TransOcean, Plains All American, Marathon Oil, First Solar, La Quinta, Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, LPL Financial

8:15 a.m. ADP employment

2:00 p.m. FOMC statement


Earnings: Kraft Heinz, CBS, Starbucks, Las Vegas Sands, Activision Blizzard, Credit Suisse, Cigna, Encana, Adidas, AMC Networks, Church and Dwight, Chesapeake Energy, Fortress Investments, S&P Global, Scotts Miracle-Gro, Hyatt, Pinnacle West, Time Inc,G FireEye, GoPro, Fossil, Ambac, Twilio, Weight Watchers, Noodles and Co, Lions Gate, TrueCar, TiVo, Skyworks, El Pollo Loco

8:30 a.m. Initial claims

8:30 a.m. Productivity and costs

9:45 a.m. Services PMI

10:00 a.m. ISM nonmanufacturing

10:00 a.m. Factory orders


Earnings: Humana, Duke Energy, Madison Square Garden, Shutterstock, Centerpoint, AES, NRG Energy, Regeneron, Virtu Financial

8:30 a.m. Employment report

8:30 a.m. International trade

4:00 p.m. Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer at IMF on policy changes after great recession