US Stocks Close Modestly Lower

(AP) -- Technology companies led stocks lower on Wall Street Tuesday as a wobbly day of trading ended with modest losses for the market.

Health care stocks jumped on stronger-than-expected reports from drugmakers, but losses by internet and media companies held the market in check following a mixed report from Google's parent.

Companies have largely been reporting stronger earnings than analysts expected, but they're nowhere close to blow-away good. S&P 500 companies are still on track to report a third straight quarter of profit declines, according to FactSet.

Tuesday's modest market pullback came a day after the S&P 500 hit an all-time high. The benchmark index mostly drifted between small gains and losses Tuesday, finishing within 0.1% of its record.

"The market was a little bit overbought," said Janet Johnston, portfolio manager at Trim Tabs Asset Management. "It's a good sign that it continues to hold at new highs."

The S&P 500 slipped 2.53 points, or 0.1%, to 3,036.89. It set a record on Monday, surpassing its prior peak set in late July.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 19.26 points, or 0.1%, to 27,071. The Nasdaq composite slid 49.13 points, or 0.6%, to 8,276.85.

Smaller companies fared better than the rest of the market. The Russell 2000 index rose 5.14 points, or 0.3%, to 1,577.07.

Major stock indexes in Europe closed mostly lower. The price of crude oil dropped a second straight day, and gold dipped.

U.S. stocks are on track to end October with gains. The S&P 500 has closed with a weekly gain the past three weeks.

What's helped buoy U.S. stocks are hopes that the United States and China can make progress on their trade dispute, or at least stop making it worse. Lower interest rates have also played a big role.

Most investors expect the Federal Reserve to cut short-term rates by a quarter of a percentage point on Wednesday. The central bank has cut rates two other times since the summer in a bid to shield the U.S. from the impact of the trade war and a slowing global economy.

Treasury yields dipped ahead of the decision. The yield on the 10-year Treasury slid to 1.83% from 1.85% late Monday. The two-year yield, which is more sensitive to moves by the Fed, fell to 1.63% from 1.64%.

Company earnings reports have also helped lift the market. With nearly half of the companies in the S&P 500 having reported results for the July-September quarter, the index is on pace to report a profit drop of 3.5% from the prior year, according to FactSet.

That's not as bad as the roughly 4% decline that analysts were expecting on the eve of earnings reporting season, but it would be the first time that profits dropped for three straight quarters since 2015-2016.

Uncertainty and costs from the trade wars and slowing global economy have weighed on company profits this year, making it tougher for them eclipse their results from 2018.

The hefty tax cut that helped pump up corporate earnings in 2018 also makes it tougher for companies to do better this year.

"The biggest factor is the tough comps from the sugar high of the tax cut," Johnston said. "The economy is a little bit slower than it was last year. That said, we have not had an earnings recession and we continue to see positive year-over-year growth in earnings."

Analysts say the sharpest earnings declines in the third quarter will come from energy companies, raw-material producers and technology companies. Wall Street is expecting stronger growth, meanwhile, from companies that do most of their business domestically, such as utilities and real-estate companies.

Over the long term, stock prices tend to track the path of corporate profits.

Apple, which is due to report quarterly results Wednesday, contributed to the slide in technology stocks Tuesday. The stock lost 2.3%.

Google's parent company, Alphabet, dropped 2.2% following its mixed earnings report. Revenue came in better than Wall Street's expectations, but profit fell short.

Health care stocks had the biggest gains among the 11 sectors that make up the S&P 500 following better-than-expected reports two big drugmakers. Pfizer rose 2.5% after it raised its forecast for the year. Merck gained 3.5% after reporting big jumps in sales for its top two blockbuster drugs, cancer drug Keytruda and vaccine Gardasil.

General Motors climbed 4.3% after reporting quarterly results that were better than Wall Street expected, even though a strike by its employees brought its U.S. factories to a standstill.

Shares in Fiat Chrysler jumped 7.6% after The Wall Street Journal reported that the automaker is in merger talks with Peugeot maker PSA Group of France. Fiat Chrysler has been the subject of merger speculation for months.

Benchmark crude oil fell 27 cents to settle at $55.54 a barrel. Brent crude oil, the international standard, inched up 2 cents to close at $61.59 a barrel. Wholesale gasoline added 2 cents to $1.69 per gallon. Heating oil was unchanged at $1.96 per gallon. Natural gas rose 7 cents to $2.52 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold fell $5.00 to $1,487.40 per ounce, silver fell 4 cents to $17.78 per ounce and copper rose 1 cent to $2.69 per pound.

The dollar fell to 108.81 Japanese yen from 109.02 yen on Monday. The euro strengthened to $1.1110 from $1.1098.

(CZ)