NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The earnings season officially kicked off this afternoon with the release of Alcoa (AA) quarterly earnings, but oil prices remained at the forefront of traders' minds. The commodity continued to pressure stocks throughout Monday's trading session following a price warning from Goldman Sachs analysts.
The S&P 500 closed 0.8% lower, clawing back from session lows of more than 1% suffered earlier. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 0.53%, and the Nasdaq tumbled 0.84%.
Goldman Sachs forecast that oil prices will remain lower for longer than expected with West Texas Intermediate averaging $50.40 a barrel this year, far below its previous forecast of $83.75. Crude oil for February delivery fell 4.2% on Monday to $46.31 a barrel.
"The markets are seemingly most fixated upon price stabilization in the oil markets -- and while falling prices hurt energy companies, they help nearly everyone else," said Schwab Center for Financial Research's Randy Frederick in an email. "Given the lack of stability in oil and the disagreement in the indicators for this week, the double-digit moves in both directions we saw in the SPX last week, are likely to continue for awhile."
Also hurting crude prices were pleas from Venezuela and Iran for OPEC to cut oil output that were ignored, the countries' delegates said Monday. OPEC's Gulf States, including Saudi Arabia, have been steadfast in their refusal to cut production lest the organization lose market share. OPEC will gather in June for their next scheduled meeting.
Small-cap energy stocks were the hardest hit with Bill Barrett (BBG) , Basic Energy Services (BAS) , Sanchez Energy (SN) , and Rex Energy (REXX) suffering heavy losses. Industry giants Exxon Mobil (XOM) , BP (BP) , Chevron (CVX) and Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.A) were also significantly lower. The Energy Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLE) dropped 2.9%.
While eventually fueling increased consumer spending, an economic component that contributes two-thirds of U.S. GDP, economists fear crashing crude prices could have a negative impact on corporate earnings in the most recent quarter.
Aluminum producer Alcoa beat fourth-quarter estimates, reporting profits of 33 cents a share and revenue 15% higher year over year. Shares jumped more than 1% after market close.
S&P 500 companies are expected to report profit growth of 1.1% over the fourth quarter, according to FactSet, its slowest pace of growth in more than 2 years. Energy companies are forecast to report quarterly earnings 19.1% lower than a year earlier after crude prices more than halved since a mid-summer peak.
Major banks will disclose their quarterly figures with JPMorgan (JPM) and Wells Fargo (WFC) set for Wednesday, Bank of America (BAC) and Citigroup (C) on Thursday and Goldman Sachs (GS) on Friday. Intel (INTC) will report on Thursday afternoon.
Despite heavy selloffs in line with the crude crash, benchmark indexes remain close to all-time highs with the Dow 466 points from its record and the S&P 500 just 3% from its own. However, Goldman's chief U.S. equity strategist, David Kostin, said he believes a pullback from records could be seen at the end of February.
"The U.S. equity markets are likely to experience a pullback some time in the next 4-6 weeks and that would be pretty consistent with the magnitude of an extreme reading we see in the commodities futures trading corporation data," he told CNBC.
--Written by Keris Alison Lahiff in New York.