Geopolitical concerns dominated Wall Street this week, pulling stocks lower, while large U.S. banks kicked off earnings season.
The S&P 500 fell 1.21% over the past five days, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.01% and the Nasdaq slid 1.26% as stocks closed lower three straight days this week.
Markets grappled with confusion about President Donald Trump's next moves with Russia, Syria and North Korea.
The U.S. launched almost 60 cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase last Thursday, the first direct intervention in Syria's long-running civil war. The Trump administration approved the strike in retaliation to a chemical attack from the Assad regime last week that killed dozens of civilians.
Markets awaited an outcome from U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's visit to Moscow, where he addressed Russia's continued assistance of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Tillerson met with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin for about two hours in an atmosphere charged by White House claims that Moscow tried to cover up Syria's deadly chemical attack on April 4 in order to protect Assad.
Tillerson emphasized the Trump administration's stance that "the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end," in a press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Lavrov and Tillerson agreed to investigate the chemical weapons attack in Syria, though tensions remained apparent.
Also on investors' minds is the strong language used by Trump on North Korea. In a Twitter post, Trump said, "North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them!"
North Korea said there could be "catastrophic consequences" after the U.S. ordered the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier and its battle group to waters off the Korean Peninsula, the Associated Press reported.
"At this point you have Trump starting to take some real actions that could be disruptive and this gets us into geopolitics," said Brad McMillan, Commonwealth Financial Network's chief investment officer, in a phone interview with TheStreet. "He's sent a carrier battle group to North Korea which is certainly outside what the markets had expected of him. He is starting to defy expectations a bit and I think that is also making the markets step back and say, 'Well maybe we're not getting what we thought we were.'"
President Trump said in an interview with Fox Business Network, that he would still like to finish health care reform "and after that, we're going to start on tax reform and infrastructure." Trump also switched his stance saying he would not call China a currency manipulator after meeting with China's President Xi Jinping for a two-day summit at Mar-a-Lago in Florida over the weekend.
By the end of the week, the U.S. Air Force dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb targeting ISIS in Afghanistan, according to the Associated Press.
On the economic front, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said its Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey for February showed 5.7 million job openings, 5.3 million hires, and 5.1 million separations. There were no significant changes in all three readings from the previous month. Weekly U.S. jobless claims were 234,000, slightly lower than the previous week. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Labor Statistics's producer price index for March declined 0.1% from the prior month, but wholesale inflation has increased 2.3% from the prior year. This is the first time in seven months that prices received by domestic producers of goods and services declined.
Consumer sentiment in the U.S. for April rose to 98 from 96.9 in the previous month, according to the University of Michigan.
Crude settled up 0.1% to $53.18 a barrel, following declines the previous day after the Energy Information Administration's weekly status report showed that U.S. crude oil inventories declined by 2.2 million barrels last week, and OPEC said in its monthly oil report that production decreased by 153,000 barrels a day.
Large U.S. banks kicked off first quarter earnings season on Thursday, beating expectations, but bank shares lost steam following the release.
JPMorgan Chase (JPM) - Get Reportreported first-quarter earnings of $1.65 a share on revenue of $25.59 billion, beating analysts' expectations. A year earlier, the bank earned $1.35 a share on revenue of $24.08.
"JPMorgan Chase's results show positive momentum for investment banking and capital markets earnings on back of solid debt and equity underwriting and strong fixed income trading revenues," Ana Arsov, Moody's Investors Service associate managing director, wrote in a note. "This may indicate a return back to the banks usual positive Q1 cyclicality. However, the direction of tides is unclear on a variety of economic, geopolitical and policy issues on the horizon."
Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) - Get Reportreduced its holdings in Wells Fargo, the company said Wednesday in a regulatory filing. Warren Buffett's company said it sold more than 7 million shares of the bank, which kept its ownership stake below 10%. The company said "in the near future" it would sell another 1.87 million shares.
United Airlines (UAL) - Get Report was suffering the fallout from an incident over the weekend in which a passenger was violently dragged from the aircraft for not voluntarily giving up his seat. The elderly doctor had been randomly picked to give up his seat on an overbooked flight to accommodate United staff. When he refused, airport police dragged him from the airplane, bloodying him in the process. The incident, filmed by several passengers, went viral on social media platforms and put United on defense.
CEO Oscar Munoz issued a second apology Tuesday, saying, "I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight, and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way."
The airline has said it will reimburse passengers on that flight.
Qualcomm (QCOM) - Get Reportfell on Tuesday after filing a counterclaim to charges against it that Apple (AAPL) - Get Report made in January. Qualcomm said the iPhone maker "breached agreements" with the chipmaker and "encouraged regulatory attacks on Qualcomm's business in various jurisdictions around the world by misrepresenting facts and making false statements."
Whole Foods (WFM) jumped 10% late Monday afternoon after activist investor Jana Partners built a 9% stake and was pushing for board changes. The fund said in a securities filing that it wants to see Whole Foods initiate a review of strategic alternatives, adding that the grocery store chain has been "unwilling to engage in discussions with third parties" about M&A alternatives. The grocers shares rose after Bloomberg reported that Amazon (AMZN) - Get Report considered taking over the grocer last year, but decided against making a move.
Shares of BlackBerry (BBRY) popped after the company announced it was awarded $814.9 million of royalty payments in an arbitration against Qualcomm.
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