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TheStreet Open House

Stock Market Today: Stocks Dive With Utilities the Only Winning Sector

Stock quotes in this article: ^DJI, ^GSPC, ^IXIC, EXC, ED, DUK, F, GM, TKMR, F, GM, FNMA, FMCC

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Stocks were pummeled Wednesday after investors lost confidence amid a confluence of factors consisting of the geopolitical flare-up in China, soft economic reports out of Europe, and weaker-than-expected U.S. data.

Must Read:  Here Are 20 Stocks That Could Buck the Odds and Do Well in October

The S&P 500   tumbled 1.32% to settle at 1,946.16. The index booked its worst start to October in three years, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices' senior index analyst, Howard Silverblatt. The last time it slid this steeply at the beginning of October was back on Oct. 3, 2011, when it registered a 2.85% decline.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average  dropped by 1.4% on Wednesday to 16,804.71. The Nasdaq  slid 1.59% to 4,422.09.

The only sector that saw gains was the utility sector. It was up 0.54% as investors piled into the relative safety of higher-yielding dividend stocks. 

Exelon Corp. (EXC) , yielding 3.34%, rose 1.41%. Duke Energy  (DUK) increased 0.71%, and Consolidated Edison (ED) spiked 0.49%. Andrew Wilkinson, chief market analyst at Interactive Brokers, said Exelon options volume was about 27% higher than its 10-day average and Duke and Con Edison each were comfortably ahead of their average daily options volume.

Meanwhile, the safe-haven allure of U.S. government bonds pulled Treasury yields down to their lowest levels since Sept. 5.
The markets had already been in a weakening phase for the last several days after hitting new records in late September. Randy Frederick, managing director of trading and derivatives at Charles Schwab, said from a technical perspective he observed last Thursday a variety of put-call ratios heading to some relatively extreme levels, which often occurs right before a pullback takes place. Market uncertainty also was being driven by the likely conclusion of the Federal Reserve's tapering process by the end of October and also the approaching mid-term elections in the U.S., he said.
"We're approaching the next earnings season, which begins next week. I don't think that's a negative. To be honest I think that could very well be the catalyst that pulls us out of this downturn," Frederick added.
In Wednesday's economic data headlines, the ISM manufacturing index fell to 56.6 in September from 59 in August, with the employment sub-index coming in at 54.6 vs. 58.1 in August. Construction spending surprisingly dipped 0.8% in August. Meanwhile, the final Markit U.S. Manufacturing PMI registered 57.5 in September, down slightly from 57.9 in August.

U.S. private payrolls grew by a more-than-expected 213,000 in September, according to the ADP employment change report. But the markets barely budged on the news following the sluggish PMI data out of China and Europe and softer corporate confidence in Japan, as well as concerns about political unrest in Hong Kong and China as thousands turned out for pro-Democracy demonstrations during China's 65 th National Day.

In individual stock headlines Wednesday, shares of Tekmira Pharmaceuticals (TKMR) jumped 18.21% after officials announced that the first case of Ebola had been diagnosed in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control said a patient being treated at a hospital in Dallas tested positive for the disease. Tekmira has been working on a treatment for the deadly disease.

Ford (F) dipped 1.35% after saying that its U.S. sales fell 3% in September as the automaker reduces sales of its 2014 F-150 pickup in preparation for the 2015 aluminum F-150 launch.

GM (GM) rose 1.72% after reporting that its U.S. sales climbed 19% last month on strong demand for its trucks and crossovers.

A federal judge on Tuesday ruled against investors who are trying to collect billions of dollars in profits of government-chartered mortgage companies Fannie Mae (FNMA) and Freddie Mac (FMCC) .

Must Read: 10 Stocks George Soros Is Buying

-- By Andrea Tse in New York

Follow @AndreaTTse

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DOW 16,804.71 -238.19 -1.40%
S&P 500 1,946.16 -26.13 -1.32%
NASDAQ 4,422.0850 -71.3050 -1.59%

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