NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- U.S. stocks were slightly lower in the final hour of trading Tuesday after the latest signs of a slowdown in China spooked investors.
The S&P 500 was down 0.31%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was flat, and the Nasdaq declined 0.37%.
The financials sector was the worst performer Tuesday as the big banks prepared to release third-quarter earnings reports this week. HSBC (HSBC) dropped more than 2%, Wells Fargo (WFC - Get Report) fell 0.2%, and Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A - Get Report) slid 0.9%. JPMorgan (JPM - Get Report) will release earnings Tuesday after the bell and Bank of America (BAC - Get Report) and Wells Fargo will report Wednesday morning.
China's economy continues to show signs of weakness after imports and exports slumped in September, the second straight month of negative growth. Imports fell 20.4% year over year, a steeper decline than an expected 15% drop. Exports slid 3.7% compared to an expected 6.3% gain. The steep decline in imports created a trade surplus of $60.34 billion.
Fears over Chinese growth also were putting a damper on crude oil prices. West Texas Intermediate was trading at $47.67 a barrel, 1.2% higher than levels reached on Monday following a 5% decline. The commodity had surged around 8% over the previous week on signs of slowing domestic production.
"China is one of the biggest consumers of commodities and a drop in imports would directly affect the demand," Daniel Ang, investment analyst at Phillip Capital, wrote in a report. "This worry should cause some reservations to further price increases and thus, suggest some capped upside for today."
Twitter (TWTR - Get Report) jumped 1.9% after announcing it will cut 336 jobs, or around 8% of its work force, as part of a restructuring. The social network expects to incur between $10 million and $20 million in cash expenditures tied to severance costs.
Fortress Investment Group (FIG) spiked more than 5% after announcing it will close its Fortress Macro Funds and managed separate accounts. The investment firm said all capital will be returned to investors by the end of the year. Shares had been halted briefly prior to the announcement.
Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD) and SABMiller (SBMRY) agreed to a deal that would combine the two largest beer companies in the world. Anheuser-Busch has agreed to purchase SABMiller for 68 billion pounds ($104 billion) or 44 pounds a share. SABMiller had previously rejected an offer to purchase the company for 42 pounds a share. The deal creates the world's largest beer company with nine of the world's top 20 beers under the one roof.
Johnson & Johnson (JNJ - Get Report) kicked off a busy earnings week after reporting a mixed third quarter. The drugmaker earned $1.49 a share, 4 cents above estimates, while sales fell 7.4% to $17.1 billion. Johnson & Johnson also announced plans to buy back up to $10 billion of common stock.
Barclays (BCS) shares were on watch on reports Jes Staley, former JPMorgan banker, will take over as CEO of the bank. The bank's board has reportedly approved the appointment and will make an announcement within the next two weeks. Barclays' previous CEO, Antony Jenkins, was removed from his position in July after disagreements with board members.
Agricultural chemicals company FMC Corp. (FMC - Get Report) joined rivals Monsanto (MON) and DuPont (DD - Get Report) in forecasting lower full-year earnings in the face of weakened industry demand and a decline in the Brazilian real. The company lowered profit forecasts to $2.35 to $2.45 a share, below previous estimates of $3 to $3.30 a share. FMC also announced it will cut as many as 850 jobs, or around 12% of its work force.
SAP (SAP - Get Report) shares jumped more than 5% after reporting a 19% increase in operating profit during the third quarter and a 17% increase in adjusted revenue. The software company said the stronger-than-expected results were largely thanks to double-digit growth in cloud software sales.