An afternoon rebound allowed Australia’s stock benchmark to finish higher, giving the S&P/ASX 200 its fourth-straight gain. Capped by a 15.8-point adjustment higher at day’s end, the index rose 0.3% to 5795.3. While commodities and utilities rose some 0.8%, consumer staples skidded 2% as produce firm Costa sunk a record 39% after saying demand has weakened in recent weeks for items including avocados.
The S&P 500 fell intraday, stymieing a market rebound as lackluster holiday sales reports from retailers and weak economic data from Asia and Europe rekindled investors’ fears of fading global growth. Falling shares of retailers weighed down the broad stock-market index after several chains, including Macy’s and Kohl’s, reported disappointing sales results from the holiday season, reviving concerns among investors that companies will struggle to boost profits this year. Lackluster economic data from China and France added to the worries. The losses pulled the S&P 500 down nearly 1% soon after the opening bell, putting the broad index on pace to snap a four-day run of gains, its longest winning streak since September. Still, the strong volatility that has buffeted stocks in recent weeks was apparent. After opening lower, stocks wobbled between small gains and losses. The S&P 500 fell 0.4% in recent trading, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 76 points, or 0.3%, to 23803. The Nasdaq Composite declined 0.3%. Comments from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell in the early afternoon reiterating the central bank’s willingness to adjust its pace of interest-rate increases if economic conditions weaken even nudged the index into positive territory, but losses among retailers proved hard to overcome as shares of Macy’s suffered their biggest percentage decline on record.
Gold futures finished lower after failing to overcome resistance at the psychologically important $1,300-an-ounce level, but remained on track for a modest weekly gain as a result of overall softness in the dollar. February gold fell by $4.60, or 0.4%, to settle at $1,287.40 an ounce after trading as high as $1,298. The yellow metal was up a modest 0.1% in the week to date and has climbed 0.5% so far in January, according to FactSet data. March fell 9.2 cents, or 0.6%, to fetch $15.643 an ounce. Analysts said movements in the U.S. dollar continued to be among the biggest factors for gold, with the currency in turn taking its cue from expectations around the Federal Reserve’s rate plans. The dollar has weakened this month on expectations the Fed will be less aggressive than previously thought in tightening monetary policy. Meanwhile, wheat for March fell 6 1/4 cents to $5.13 3/4.
Iron Ore: 72.33s – 0.33 (February Contract)
A move higher in the last few minutes of trading in New York allowed U.S. benchmark oil futures to notch a ninth-straight session of gains, the longest such stretch of gains in about nine years. Traders haven’t heard much about the outcome of trade talks that ended Wednesday between the U.S. and China, but prices have been able to rise on expectations for progress toward a resolution on trade, as well as data showing declines in output among major oil producers. February West Texas Intermediate oil added 23 cents, or 0.4%, to settle at $52.59 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The nine-session climb was the longest for a front-month contract since the 10-session rise that ended on Jan. 6, 2010, according to Dow Jones Market Data.
The dollar bounced back intraday after its biggest one-day decline in more than two months. The WSJ Dollar Index, which measures the U.S. currency against a basket of 16 others, rose less than 0.1% to 88.92. A four-session streak of gains in U.S. stocks showed signs of petering out in early trading, sending investors into assets like U.S. government bonds and the dollar. Traders have also been watching talks between the U.S. and China on trade and the continuing government shutdown. A positive outcome from trade negotiations could strengthen emerging markets currencies against the dollar, Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts wrote in a note. The euro fell 0.2% against the dollar to $1.1521 in recent trading, according to FactSet.
The Stoxx Europe 600 rose 0.3%, or 1.2 points, to 348.88 as Wall Street made modest gains, though auto stocks fell after news of industry restructuring and job cuts. The DAX climbed 0.3%, though the CAC-40 edged 0.2% lower, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average advanced 26 points. Headlight maker Osram Licht, car seat maker Faurecia and tire-maker Continental were among the sector’s biggest fallers. The largest riser was tobacco maker Swedish Match, with shares up 4%.
It was largely a quiet session for Asian equities following days of wide, and often large, gains. Japanese stocks, which had been the best performers, badly lagged behind the rest of the region. Those declines came in the face of broad dollar weakness overnight as prospects of rate increases in 2019 appear to have dwindled further — at least in the market’s view. The Nikkei lost 1.3% while other Asia-Pacific decliners — China, Taiwan, South Korea and New Zealand — fell no more than 0.4% each. Southeast Asian benchmarks, which haven’t fared so well lately, outperformed with gains of some 0.5% each amid the dollar’s decline. Most Asian markets also posted losses, with China’s Shanghai Composite down 0.4% and Japan’s Nikkei down 1.3%, though Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index edged up 0.2%.