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Oil and Falling Tech Stars Concoct a Toxic Brew for Markets

You know the drill by now. Much like the majority of this year, Wall Street posted a weekly loss. 

The S&P 500 fell 3.1%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 1.6%, and the Nasdaq was the hardest-hit, with a decline of 5.4%. For the year, the S&P 500 has tumbled 8% and is firmly in correction territory, having fallen 12% from its most recent high. 

Earnings highlighted the struggle for oil companies as they attempt to rein in a bleeding bottom line while crude oil plumbs lows. While small-cap oil stocks have borne the brunt of the commodity's collapse, this week highlighted its effect on Big Oil. 

BP (BP - Get Report) reported a 91% slump in fourth-quarter earnings and its worst annual loss in 20 years, while Exxon (XOM - Get Report) said quarterly earnings plummeted 58% in the last three months of 2015. Energy companies have reported an average 75% decline in earnings in the most recent quarter. 

Tech had a similarly poor week, save for Alphabet (GOOGL - Get Report) , which surged after an impressive quarter. Gains to its stock price put the search-engine giant neck-and-neck with Apple (AAPL - Get Report) as the most valuable company in the world.

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Yahoo! (YHOO - Get Report) and LinkedIn (LNKD) slumped after both posted disappointing results. Yahoo! also announced plans to reduce its workforce by 15% and close five offices as it seeks to appease shareholders worried over profitability. Meanwhile, GoPro (GPRO) briefly touched a record low after warning that current-quarter sales would be lower than expected as demand for older models slows and new products fail to gain traction. 

Corporate America is now nearly two-thirds of the way through the earnings season, and the past week was one of the biggest, with about one out of every five S&P 500 firms reporting results.

So far, the majority have topped analysts' earnings estimates, though expectations were admittedly lower than normal because of pressure from a stronger dollar and weaker oil.

Crude oil rode out a bumpy week, whipsawing between gains and losses, depending on the data of the day. Prices fell more than 2% on Friday, bringing the week's decline to 8% after President Barack Obama unveiled plans to levy a $10-a-barrel tax, phased in over five years, to reduce carbon emissions and fund new transportation. 

Worries also persisted over a supply glut and weaker demand, while hopes faded for a deal between Russia and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries that would reduce output. West Texas Intermediate crude is down nearly 19% since the beginning of the year. 

"It's the gorilla in the room," Paul Springmeyer, regional investment strategist at the Private Client Reserve at U.S. Bank, told TheStreet. "It's something we've obviously seen pressure put on for a significant period of time, and so from that standpoint, it's become a point of focus for people's attention."

The U.S. economy looks to be in poorer shape than expected after a week of disappointing data. The January employment report indicated the slowest pace of job growth since September, although the unemployment rate fell to 4.9%, its lowest level since 2008, and average hourly earnings increased 0.5%.

"This report was a 'mixed bag' and doesn't really give investors any clear direction," said Chris Gaffney, president of EverBank World Markets. "Market sentiment continues to have a bearish bias as investors question the strength of the U.S. recovery."

The weaker-than-expected report increased the likelihood the Federal Reserve will delay future rate hikes until the U.S. economy shows stronger signs of improvement. The central bank raised rates for the first time in nine years in December, citing a robust labor market as one of the reasons members felt comfortable acting.

Other disappointing data this week included U.S. factory orders, which fell in December for the fourth time in five months --and at their steepest pace in roughly a year. Construction spending in December grew at one-sixth the pace economists had expected, and manufacturing in January contracted for a fourth straight month.

Meanwhile, consumer spending was flat in December even as personal income rose. Consumers have benefited from lower gas prices in the past few months, a boon that economists had hoped would fuel increased spending, but Americans appear to be stashing the extra cash in their savings instead.

Goldman Sachs analysts revised their fourth-quarter GDP estimate to growth of 0.4%, reflecting lower inventory accumulation and weaker construction spending. The Commerce Department pegged fourth-quarter growth at 0.7% in its first estimate, released last week.

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AAPL $94.02 0.00%
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YHOO $27.97 0.00%
XOM $80.08 0.00%


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