Market Wrap: Stocks Slip After Energy Slide, Yellen Comments

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By Caroline Valetkevitch

NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks edged lower Wednesday, retracing recent gains along with energy shares, while comments by Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen pointing to a possible rate hike in December added to investor caution.

S&P energy, down 1 percent, led the day's decline.

The fall snapped a run of five straight days of gains for the index, with shares of Chevron (CVX) down 1.4 percent at $96.77 and Exxon Mobil (XOM) down 1 percent at $85.98.

Stocks added to losses after Yellen's comments, which caused investors to reset their expectations of a December rate hike above 60 percent.

Yellen said December remains a "live possibility" for a rate increase, and William Dudley, the president of the New York Fed and a permanent voting member of the Fed's policy panel, said later on Wednesday that he would "completely agree" with Yellen.

Still, S&P utilities, which tend to fall in a higher-interest rate environment, were up 0.4 percent, the day's best-performing sector.

The market is consolidating after a big rally, said Michael O'Rourke, chief market strategist at JonesTrading in Greenwich, Connecticut.

"The gains have been strong over the past five weeks and we're due for more of a breather here," said O' Rourke.

The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 50.57 points, or 0.3 percent, to 17,867.58, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) lost 7.48 points, or 0.4 percent, to 2,102.31 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 2.65 points, or 0.05 percent, to 5,142.48.

Stocks rallied after the Fed's statement last week, when it signaled a December rate hike was still on the table, yet the ongoing debate over when the Fed will actually make its move has added uncertainty to the market.

"It's really that uncertainty -- investors don't know whether to applaud a rate hike or to fear it," said Bruce Zaro, chief technical strategist, Bolton Global Asset Management in Boston.

A raft of data released Wednesday suggested the economy was strong enough to support ending an era of near-zero interest rates.

The ADP National Employment Report showed U.S. private employers maintained a steady pace of hiring in October, while data from the Institute for Supply Management showed a jump in new orders buoyed activity in the services sector.

The reports come ahead of Friday's nonfarm payrolls data, the most widely watched U.S. economic indicator.

Movers and Shakers

Time Warner (TWX), down 6.6 percent at $72.20, weighed on the S&P 500 the most after the company said ratings for its "key" domestic entertainment networks have dropped more than anticipated, while shares of Twenty-First Century Fox (FOXA) dropped 5.2 percent to $29.65 after it reported lower-than-expected quarterly revenue.

Other media stocks such as Disney (DIS), Viacom (VIA) and Discovery (DISCA) also fell.

U.S. health insurers also slid, with UnitedHealth (UNH) falling 2.6 percent to $114.64.

Groupon (GRPN) lumped 26.3 percent to $2.97 after it forecast weak fourth-quarter and 2016 revenue.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,849 to 1,214, for a 1.52-to-1 ratio on the downside; on the Nasdaq, 1,398 issues fell and 1,362 advanced for a 1.03-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 16 new 52-week highs and 1 new low; the Nasdaq recorded 69 new highs and 43 new lows.

-Sinead Carew contributed reporting from New York.

What to watch Thursday:
  • At 8:30 a.m. Eastern time, the Labor Department releases third-quarter productivity data and weekly jobless claims
  • Freddie Mac releases weekly mortgage rates 10 a.m.
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