Pervasive uncertainty over the role of the U.S. in international conflicts dragged Wall Street into the red on Tuesday and kept it there until the closing bell.
The S&P 500 was down 0.14%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.03%, and the Nasdaq slipped 0.24%. Stocks came off the worst of the day's lows by the end of the session.
Geopolitical uncertainty has made for choppy trading over the past several sessions, particularly on worries over how President Donald Trump will handle increasing tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Trump tweeted earlier Tuesday:
North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 11, 2017
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.
The U.S.'s response in Syria was also on investors' minds. 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.
"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 yen gained on Tuesday as increasing risks in the Korean Peninsula pulled investors toward safe-haven assets. The U.S. dollar nearly touched a five-month low against the Japanese yen earlier Tuesday, trading down more than 1%.
Financials were among the sectors in the red on Tuesday as the big banks failed to get a kick from Trump's pledge to eliminate industry regulation. Trump said Tuesday he wants to eliminate or revamp the Dodd-Frank banking reform law, which was enacted after the 2008 financial crisis. The regulations require financial institutions to prove they are fiscally sound and can weather future shocks to global markets.
"We're doing a major elimination of the horrendous Dodd-Frank regulations, keeping some obviously, but getting rid of many," he said at discussion with CEOs at the White House on Tuesday. "For the bankers in the room, they'll be very happy because we're really doing a major streamlining and, perhaps, elimination, and replacing it with something else."
Trump's ability to work the political system has been called into question in recent weeks, though, particularly after his Obamacare repeal and replace bill was pulled before a congressional vote in March. Markets had rallied to new records in the wake of the November election on Trump's promises of tax reform and infrastructure spending.
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 technology sector also declined on Tuesday. Apple (AAPL - Get Report) , down 1.1%, led the Dow lower. Qualcomm (QCOM - Get Report) fell on Tuesday after filing a counterclaim to charges against it that Apple 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."
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.
United Airlines (UAL - Get Report) suffered 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." Munoz promised to review the policies for overbooked planes in a follow-up on Tuesday.
Investors have grown 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 1.1%.
Whole Foods (WFM) gave back some of Monday's gains, falling nearly 2% over the session. Shares had jumped 10% late Monday afternoon after activist investor Jana Partners disclosed a 9% stake. 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.
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.
San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank President John Williams, in an interview with German publication Borsen Zeitung on Tuesday. said the central bank should raise interest rates three or four times in 2017.
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.
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.
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