Stocks hovered at lows by mid-afternoon Tuesday as another slump in crude oil prices pressured the energy sector.
The S&P 500 was down 1%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1%, and the Nasdaq slid 1.1%.
Commodity traders were growing impatient over negotiations among members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries on Tuesday. Saudi Arabia's oil minister said producers will convene again in March to negotiate a production freeze. Negotiations have been ongoing since last week as oil producers face a global oversupply crisis. WTI crude fell 3.8% to $32.11 a barrel.
The energy sector was the worst performer Tuesday. Major oilers Exxon Mobil (XOM) , PetroChina (PTR) , Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.A) , Chevron (CVX) and Total (TOT) were lower, while the Energy Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLE) fell 2.8%.
Lower oil prices continued to hurt major energy companies. BHP Billiton (BHP) fell more than 5% after cutting its dividend for the first time in 15 years as profits declined. The mining giant had said that action would be unlikely six months ago, though a continued rough commodities environment had made it necessary. The company said it had suffered a $5.67 billion loss in the first half to its fiscal year.
The latest reading on consumer confidence came in at the lowest level in seven months. The consumer confidence index fell to 92.2 in February, its lowest level since July, down from a revised reading of 97.8 in January, the Conference Board said. Economists had expected a reading of 96.9. Consumers grew more anxious over general business conditions over the month.