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Stock selling accelerates into afternoon trading

Published August 16, 2013 9:07 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

NEW YORK • U.S. stocks extended declines from earlier this week in late-afternoon trading Friday, hurt by weak performances from retailers and companies sensitive to higher interest rates.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index was down eight points, or 0.5 percent, to 1,653 at 2:15 p.m. Eastern Daylight Times. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 48 points, or 0.3 percent, to 15,064. The Nasdaq composite lost 3 points, or 0.1 percent, to 3,603. Friday's losses added to the triple-digit declines in the Dow the previous two day.

A bleak sales outlook from Nordstrom late Thursday followed similar forecasts from Wal-Mart and Macy's earlier this week. The outlooks have raised worries that U.S. shoppers might be pulling back on spending. T

Nordstrom's stock fell $2.13, or 3.7 percent, to $57.20, making it the second-biggest decliner in the S&P 500.

The retail industry is a closely-watched part of the U.S. economy as consumer spending makes up roughly 70 percent of economic activity. The disappointing outlooks are worrisome because they take into account the back-to-school shopping season, typically the second-biggest shopping period for U.S. retailers.

"It's left us scratching our heads," said John Fox, who oversees $873 million in assets as co-manager of the FAM Value Fund. "It really forces you to ask the question: 'is the consumer slowing down?'"

The benchmark U.S. 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.85 percent, its highest level since July 2011. Late Thursday, the yield was 2.77 percent.

Interest rates have been climbing sharply for the last two weeks as investors anticipate that the Federal Reserve will cut back on its big bond-buying program as early as September.

"Very few investors have wanted to buy stocks ahead of the Federal Reserve's (possible) tapering in September," said Brian Reynolds, chief market strategist at Rosenblatt Securities. "Now it's a late summer Friday in August coming off a couple hard days, making people even more scared to be a buyer in this market."

Shares of utilities and telecommunications companies, which typically perform poorly in a higher interest-rate environment, were all broadly lower. Northeast utility Consolidated Edison Inc. was down 81 cents, or 1.4 percent, to $56.57 while California-based PG&E was down 83 cents, or 2 percent, to $42.52. Dow components Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc. were down 2.3 percent and 1 percent, respectively.

Investors have been concerned about what will happen to the stock market — and the U.S. economy — if the Fed begins winding down its $85 billion-a-month bond-buying program next month. Some investors think that the Fed's program has been a large contributor to the stock market's record run.

"The big question is will the Fed eliminate the bond-buying program in September and, if so, how they will they remove the bond buying," said Frank Davis, director of sales and trading for LEK Securities.

The Dow has dropped more than 300 points, or roughly 3 percent, this week. The S&P 500, which is a broader gauge of the market, is down almost 40 points, or 2 percent. The market is on pace for its third-worst week this year.

Reynolds said investors should expect more selling ahead of the Fed's decision.

"Expect a correction, but a shallower correction than the one that happened in June," he said.

In other news, personal computer maker Dell Inc. reported a 72-percent drop in its fiscal second-quarter earnings. That may help convince Dell shareholders to approve the $24.8 billion buyout proposed by founder Michael Dell. and private-equity firm Silver Lake.

Shares of Dell rose 5 cents, or 0.5 percent, to $13.77 - below the proposed buyout price of $13.88 per share.