Stocks closed lower on Wednesday, Nov. 15, as investors remained uncertain over the future of tax reform, oil prices fell sharply and shares in the energy sector went along with them.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 134 points, or 0.57%. The S&P 500 Index declined 14 points, or 0.55%, while the Nasdaq tumbled 32 points, or 0.47%.
The Dow and S&P 500 have traded lower for four of the last five trading sessions. Dow Component General Electric Co. (GE - Get Report) had earlier weighed on the blue-chip index after the company announced this week that it would cut its dividend in half. GE stock slumped to its lowest price since December 2011 by the market close Tuesday, Nov. 14. Shares opened lower Wednesday before tipping higher 2.07% by the market close.
The week-long slide in oil prices accelerated on Wednesday as traders digested a surprise increase in U.S. crude inventories, a forecast for weaker demand growth and suggestions that Russia isn't ready to extend OPEC-coordinated production cuts.
Global benchmark Brent crude fell as low as $61.34 a barrel in overnight trading before regaining some to trade down 0.59% on Wednesday to $61.84 a barrel. West Texas Intermediate crude oil settled lower 37 cents to $55.33 a barrel.
U.S. crude stockpiles rose by 6.5 million barrels in the week to Nov. 10, the American Petroleum Institute reported on Tuesday. The increase came as a shock to analysts who predicted U.S. crude reserves would decline by about 2.2 million barrels over the period. Gasoline stocks also increased, up 2.4 million barrels, once again surprising analysts who had forecast stockpiles would fall by more than 1 million barrels.
The surprise out of the U.S. followed an International Energy Agency report that suggested that oil demand growth over 2018 would be weaker than expected. The IEA on Tuesday cut its demand growth forecast by about 100,000 barrels per day for both 2017 and 2018.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported on Wednesday that crude inventories rose 1.9 million barrels during the week ended Nov. 10, compared to expectations inventories would fall by 1 million barrels, according to a survey from S&P Global Platts. An increase is not typically expected during this time of the year, when inventories should be worked through during colder months.
Energy stocks were among the worst performers Wednesday. The Energy Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLE - Get Report) declined 1.16%. Marathon Petroleum Corp. (MPC - Get Report) shares declined 1.54%, Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM - Get Report) dipped 1.24% and ConocoPhillips (COP - Get Report) shares lost 1.43%.
The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX.X) , commonly referenced as Wall Street's "fear gauge," jumped 11.5% Wednesday to 12.92. In earlier trading, the measure rose as high as 14.34, its highest level since Aug. 29.
Lawmakers in the House met to debate tax reform Wednesday and are expected to vote Thursday, Nov. 16, after President Donald Trump rallies lawmakers in support of the legislation, according to a report from The Hill.
A vote -- or any move forward -- will offer investors more direction on the fate of the much-anticipated legislation that has bred uncertainty in markets. When the House meets, it will be allowed four hours of debate and no opportunities for amendments to the body's tax reform bill. House leaders have said they'll have enough votes to pass their version this week.
The Senate GOP plan differs from that of the House and could face more hurdles. The Senate version would add $1.5 trillion to the federal deficit over 10 years and eliminate widely popular deductions such as state and local taxes.
Senate leaders also said Tuesday they are intent on repealing the individual mandate required under the Affordable Care Act, a move that would curb the plan's impact on the deficit.
The Consumer Price Index for October rose 0.1%, meeting the expectations of economists surveyed by FactSet. Retail sales for October rose 0.2% vs. estimates the figure would rise 0.1%. The Empire State Manufacturing Survey for November was 19.4, coming in lower than economists' expectations for a reading of 26.
October's consumer prices gain was the smallest in three months, sending sellers to lay siege on the dollar immediately. The Dollar Index tipped toward 93.40 following the release of the statistics.
"Although the 0.1% increase in consumer prices was in line with market expectations, it continues to highlight how stubbornly low inflation in the United States remains a recurrent theme," said Lukman Otunuga, research analyst at FXTM.
"While it is widely expected that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates in December, the future path of rate hikes beyond 2017, is open to discussion amid low inflation concerns," Otunuga said.
Target Corp. (TGT - Get Report) stumbled, down 9.87% Wednesday, after the retailer beat earnings expectations for the third quarter but warned of a "highly competitive" holiday sales environment. Adjusted earnings were 91 cents a share, down from the same period last year but topping analysts' expectations of 86 cents. Revenue for the quarter was $16.67 billion, besting the forecast $16.60 billion. Comp sales gained 0.9% and digital sales increased 24% over last year.
Consumer staples names trailed Wednesday after Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN - Get Report) announced it will cut prices at Whole Foods during the holiday season. Amazon said that the price discounts are just a preview of what Prime customers can expect on a regular basis when Prime becomes the official rewards program of Whole Foods. "These are the latest new lower prices in our ongoing integration and innovation with Amazon, and we're just getting started," said Whole Foods CEO John Mackey. "In the few months we've been working together, our partnership has proven to be a great fit."
Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK.A - Get Report) (BRK.B - Get Report) lifted its stake in Apple Inc. (AAPL - Get Report) by about 3% to 134 million shares in the third quarter, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Berkshire lowered its stake in International Business Machines Corp. (IBM - Get Report) by 17.06 million shares in the period. The company now owns about 37 million shares worth $5.37 billion. Berkshire also trimmed its stakes in Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC - Get Report) and Charter Communications Inc. (CHTR - Get Report) during the third quarter.
Snap Inc. (SNAP - Get Report) stock slid 0.88% Wednesday after filings showed billionaire investor George Soros dumped all his shares in the messaging app group over the previous quarter.
Soros Fund Management, which had 1.55 million shares in the group as of the end of the June quarter -- at the time valued at around $28 billion -- completely dissolved its position over the three months ending in September, Securities and Exchange Commission filings revealed.
Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and a holdover from President Barack Obama's administration, announced on Wednesday that is stepping down by the end of the month.
Cordray's departure will allow President Trump to fill the position with someone he considers business friendly and more inclined toward deregulation, in line with his administration's agenda.
Bank stocks rose following the announcement. Citigroup Inc. (C - Get Report) stock gained 0.28%, JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM - Get Report) increased 0.95% and Bank of America Corp. (BAC - Get Report) rose 2.1%.
President Trump address trade in a statement late Wednesday, rehashing his recent trip to Asia and the progress made during it.
"We will never again turn a blind eye to trading abuses, to cheating, economic aggression, or anything else from countries that profess a belief in open trade, but do not follow the rules or live by its principles themselves," Trump said.
Noticeably missing from President Trump's comments was any insight on tax reform or the ongoing Roy Moore situation in Alabama.
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