Stocks traded lower on Tuesday as the U.S. became more involved in warfare in Syria and rising tensions in North Korea.
The S&P 500 was down 0.65%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.49%, and the Nasdaq slipped 0.8%.
Markets have been in a holding pattern in recent days, stuck between worries over rising geopolitical tensions and hope over the upcoming first-quarter earnings season. Nerves over geopolitical uncertainty continued on Tuesday as investors assessed the U.S.'s increasing involvement in Syria and North Korea.
The U.S. launched about 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.
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. "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.'"
The financial sector and technology sectors led decliners on Tuesday, each falling more than 1%. Apple (AAPL - Get Report) , down 1.7%, led the Dow lower, while Goldman Sachs (GS - Get Report) slipped 1%.
Big banks are set to kick off the first-quarter reporting period this week. Citigroup (C - Get Report) , JPMorgan (JPM - Get Report) and Wells Fargo (WFC - Get Report) will report their performance over the three months to March 31 on Thursday, the final day before Wall Street takes a three-day Easter weekend.
Hopes are high for another period of growth for companies in the S&P 500. Operating income is expected to increase more than 9% during the first quarter, according to FactSet, the fastest pace in just over five years. Another period of growth would mark the third straight quarter of earnings gains in a row.
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.
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 letter late Monday that defended his employees, saying the passenger was being "disruptive and belligerent." While Munoz said he was "upset" to see and hear what happened, "our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this."
Investors grew concerned over the public relations crisis, particularly heading into the busy summer months. United had already been in the news in recent weeks for refusing to board two teenagers wearing leggings that violated United's dress code.
United shares fell 4.1%.
Fellow airline American Airlines (AAL) added nearly 0.9% after reporting that March traffic fell 1.2%, while capacity slipped 0.9% to 23 billion available seat miles. The load factor fell to 81.5% from 81.7% a year earlier.
Apple had accused Qualcomm of overcharging for chips and refusing to pay about $1 billion in promised rebates. The lawsuit came days after the Federal Trade Commission accused the chipmaker of engaging in anticompetitive behavior to maintain dominance over the market.
RetailMeNot (SALE) rocketed 49% higher after agreeing to be acquired by privately owned Harland Clarke Holdings for $11.60 a share. The deal values the coupons website at a roughly 50% premium to its Monday close. Harland will pair RetailMeNot with its other coupon business Valassis Communications, which also deals in mail and print.
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. Shares are down 3% in trading Tuesday.
Supervalu (SVU) climbed 10% after the wholesale distributor said that it will be acquiring Unified Grocers in a $375 million deal. Supervalu will pay $114 million in cash for 100% of the outstanding stock of the California-based food distributor. Supervalu will assume $261 million in debt. The deal is expected to close this summer.
Yelp (YELP - Get Report) was upgraded to overweight from sector weight at Pacific Crest. Analysts also set a $43 price target, an increase of more than 31% from current levels. Pacific Crest said competitive concerns over Yelp's "relevance are overdone." Shares jumped 2%.
Goldman Sachs has reaffirmed its buy rating on Walt Disney (DIS - Get Report) stock and increased its 2017 earnings per share estimates following the success of its latest theatrical release, Beauty and the Beast. Goldman has also added Disney to its Americas Conviction Buy list.
The U.S. economy is moving along at a healthy pace with little need for acceleration from the central bank, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said on Monday evening. Speaking at the University of Michigan, Yellen said that the Fed is "allowing the economy to kind of coast and remain on an even keel to give it some gas, but not so much that we're pressing down on the accelerator." The central bank raised rates by 25 basis points at its March meeting, the third increase since 2008.