NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Wall Street was a winter wonderland on Tuesday, but stock markets looked much worse for wear. Benchmark indexes were dragged deep into the red after a series of earnings disappointments from some of the most reliable blue-chip companies.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average shed 291 points, falling 1.7%, and the S&P 500 plummeted 1.3% in what was those indexes' worst day in three weeks.
The Nasdaq fell 1.9%.
Procter & Gamble (PG) - Get Procter & Gamble Company Report and DuPont (DD) - Get DuPont de Nemours, Inc. Report reported a drop in quarterly sales with both citing a stronger U.S. dollar. Procter & Gamble shares fell 3.5%, while DuPont dropped 1.3%.
Caterpillar (CAT) - Get Caterpillar Inc. Report plummeted 7.2% as lower oil prices hurt the company's bottom line. Net profit tumbled nearly 25% to $757 million, or $1.35 a share, while revenue slid 1.1%.
Microsoft (MSFT) - Get Microsoft Corporation (MSFT) Report saw quarterly profit fall to 71 cents a share from 78 cents a year earlier. The tech giant said restructuring efforts and last year's $7 billion acquisition of Nokia's mobile phone business undercut income. Shares were down 9.4%. Intel (INTC) - Get Intel Corporation (INTC) Report and HP (HPQ) - Get HP Inc. (HPQ) Report sold off in sympathy.
High-momentum technology stocks were leading market losses with Twitter (TWTR) - Get Twitter, Inc. Report down 2.9%, Facebook (FB) - Get Facebook, Inc. Class A Report falling 2.1%, and Google (GOOGL) - Get Alphabet Inc. Class A Report dropping 2.8%. The Technology SPDR ETF (XLK) - Get Technology Select Sector SPDR Fund Report tumbled 2.9%.
IBM (IBM) - Get International Business Machines (IBM) Reportshares were down more than 1% after the company denied reports it was planning to axe 25% of its work force, around 100,000 workers. IBM said the reports were "ridiculous" and "baseless."
Durable goods orders for December missed expectations by an enormous margin, falling 3.4% compared to estimates for an increase of 0.7%. Core orders slid 0.6%, compared to an expected 0.9% increase, marking the fourth consecutive monthly drop.
"At first blush, this is a terrible report and we'll have to go back and revise our Q4 GDP estimate," said BTIG chief strategist Dan Greenhaus. "The odds of GDP printing 3.5% or more for the fifth quarter in the last six are now virtually nil. This report is always volatile so we hesitate to read too much since many other data points are telling another story. Nonetheless, this is not a good report."
The poor durable goods report contrasted with better-than-expected economic data elsewhere. Consumer confidence jumped to a seven-year high of 102.9, according to the Conference Board. The reading was sharply higher than 93.1 in December and consensus for 96.9.
"The improved sentiment occurred against a backdrop of healthy labor market gains, multi-year low prices at the gas pumps, and an improvement in household balance sheets supported by sustained home price gains," said RBC Economics' Laura Cooper. "We believe that anticipated moderation in the pace of monthly hiring going forward is unlikely to dissuade further gains in optimism, because we expect job growth to be sufficient to push the unemployment rate gradually lower in 2015 and support steady household income gains."
New home sales jumped 11.6% to 481,000 in December, higher than an expected 452,000. However, November sales were cut by 7,000 to 431,000.
New York-based markets were open as usual despite a blizzard that shuttered the city's infrastructure including subway service and schools.
-- Written by Keris Alison Lahiff in New York.