Stock market remains sluggish
NEW YORK -- The stock market continued its sluggish start to the month on Wednesday.
The broader market fell for fourth straight day, its longest losing streak in more than two months. A payroll company reported that U.S. businesses last month added the most jobs in a year, and investors worried that the latest sign of growth could mean the Fed begins pulling back on its stimulus sooner than expected.
Sears fell sharply after its CEO reduced his stake in the department store chain.
The latest bout of investor anxiety about the Fed's plans comes ahead of the government's closely watched monthly employment report on Friday. The Fed's $85 billion in monthly bond purchases have supported financial markets and given investors an incentive to buy stocks by making bonds seem relatively expensive.
After surging this year, stocks have had a slow start to December, usually one of the strongest months for the market. The Standard & Poor's 500 index has dropped 0.7 percent so far, paring its gain for the year to 25.7 percent. Even so, the market's surge has left some investors nervous. They don't want to add to their holdings when the market may have reached a peak.
"Things have been up and down," said Bob Gavlak, a wealth adviser with Strategic Wealth Partners. "There's some general angst about whether the market is overvalued and when is it going to come back down."
Sears fell $4.63, or 8.3 percent, to $50.92 after the company's CEO, billionaire hedge-fund manager Eddie Lampert, reduced his stake in the department store chain to less than half.
CF Industries was the biggest gainer in the S&P 500 index, surging $22.88, or 10.7 percent, to $237.07.
The fertilizer company told investors that it was evaluating whether to increase its dividends and said it expected to have "significant" additional cash to give shareholders.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 24.85 points, or 0.2 percent, to 15,889.77. The S&P 500 index fell 2.34 points, or 0.1 percent, to 1,792.81. The Nasdaq composite edged up 0.80 point to 4,038.
As stocks slumped, the yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to its highest level in more than two months.
The yield climbed to 2.84 percent from 2.78 percent on Tuesday, resuming its upward trajectory on signs that the economy is improving. In September, the yield reached 3 percent, rising from a year's low of 1.63 percent in May. Back then, investors speculated that the Fed was set to announce that it would cut back on its stimulus.
Investors are following Treasury rates closely because they are used as a benchmark for setting many kinds of borrowing rates, such as those on mortgages.
However, it will be the speed at which interest rates climb, rather than the absolute level that they reach, that will be crucial for the economy and the stock market, said Quincy Krosby, a market strategist at Prudential Financial.
"Markets can get used to a gradual move," said Krosby.
The stock market has had an outstanding year. The Dow and the S&P 500 index have climbed to record levels. The two months when the stock market declined came during periods when investors thought the Fed was poised to ease back on its stimulus.
Higher rates will push up borrowing costs, but stock investors should welcome the end of stimulus because it shows the economy is strengthening, said Doug Cote, chief market strategist at ING Investment Management.
"Ultimately, it's a good thing," said Cote. "It means the economy is standing on its own two feet."
In commodities trading, oil rose $1.16, or 1.2 percent, to $97.20 a barrel. Gold climbed $26.40, or 4 percent, to $1,247.20 an ounce.
Among stocks making big moves:
-- Deere & Co. rose $2.67, or 3.2 percent, to $85.38 after the farm equipment maker's board of directors approved an increase to the company's stock buyback program.
-- Express fell $5.67, or 23 percent, to $19 after the clothing retailer reported earnings that missed analysts' estimates and lowered its full-year earnings forecast..
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