Stocks slump as Wall Street monitors Lighthizer, Powell testimonies

on Feb27
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U.S. stocks retreated Wednesday amid separate congressional testimonies from U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on the topic of U.S.-China trade negotiations and a second day of Congressional hearings featuring Federal Reserve Chair Jay Powell against the backdrop of a volatile geopolitical developments.

How are stock indexes faring?

The Dow Jones Industrial Average

DJIA, -0.33%

dropped 89 points, or 0.3%, to 25,968, the S&P 500 index

SPX, -0.20%

fell 6 points, or 0.2%, to 2,787. The Nasdaq Composite Index

COMP, -0.13%

shed 12 points, or 0.2%, to 7,536.

What’s driving the market?

Wall Street is following developments out of Washington where trade representative Lighthizer and the Fed’s Powell delivered remarks and took questions before Congress.

Powell was testifying in front of the House, a day after he affirmed the central bank’s wait-and-see approach to rate increases, citing slower global growth and its effect on the U.S.

Lighthizer is appearing before the House Ways and Means Committee on U.S.-China trade to provide more insight into the progress of negotiations between the world’s two largest economies.

And although it likely won’t have a direct impact on the markets, Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, will provide an account of what he will claim is Trump’s alleged criminal conduct during testimony before a House committee.

Read: Live blog and video of Michael Cohen’s testimony on Trump before House committee

Market participants were also watching developments between India and Pakistan amid reports the Pakistani military shot down two Indian jets that had entered its airspace over the contested region of Kashmir, and arrested one Indian pilot. The news came a day after India bombed what it said was a terrorist training camp in Pakistan, the first cross-border attack over cease-fire lines in almost 50 years, according to reports.

Those events come as investors have been closely watching Britain’s tumultuous exit from the European Union with a March 29 deadline looming. British Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday said she would look to delay Brexit if a departure deal isn’t agreed upon. However, investors appear to be less fearful that a disorderly no-deal Brexit will occur, where the country leaves the EU without a trade deal in place.

Also in the spotlight was President Trump‘s high-stakes summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi.

What were analysts saying?

“Markets have come so far, so fast, it’s natural to expect some consolidation or some pullback, so that’s what we’re seeing today,” Willie Delwich, investment strategist at RW Baird, told MarketWatch.

“Trade policy, for better or worse, is what traders are paying attention to,” he said, predicting that investors will pay closest attention to Lighthizer’s testimony Wednesday. “Anything that gives any testimony to the timing of the trade deal or the scope of the deal, that’s what markets will focus on.”

“In summary, we don’t expect Powell’s second round of testimony before the U.S. House Financial Committee to change, thereby keeping the focus on geopolitical worries, the Trump-Kim summit that will likely lead to a mixed market session,” said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Spartan Capital Securities, in a research note.

What data are in focus?

The U.S. trade deficit rose 12.8% in December to $79.5 billion, the Census Bureau said.

Pending home sales jumped 4.6% to a reading of 103.2 in January, the National Association of Realtors said. Sales were 2.3% lower than a year ago, making January the 13th straight month of year-over-year declines.

U.S. factory orders increased by 0.1% in December, according to the Commerce Department, below the 0.5% increase expected by economists polled by MarketWatch.

Which stocks were in focus?

Weight Watchers International Inc.

WTW, -33.64%

shares tumbled 34% after the company reported mixed fourth-quarter results and weak guidance, saying it had a “soft start” to 2019.

Dean Foods Co.

DF, -11.76%

shares skidded 14% reported a wider-than-expected loss and suspended its dividend. The food and beverage company also said it was reviewing strategic alternatives to boost shareholder value.

Shares of Lowe’s Companies Inc.

LOW, +1.17%

gained 1.2% as investors shrugged off the home improvement retailer’s quarterly loss on the back of a $1.6 billion in charges before tax.

Shares of Mylan NV

MYL, -12.26%

sank 12% after the pharmaceutical company reported that 2019 earnings would be much lower than analysts expected.

Best Buy Inc.

BBY, +16.13%

shares surged 17% after the electronic retailer significantly beat earnings and sales forecasts for its most-recent quarter. The company also raised its guidance for 2019, while increasing its dividend and announcing a $3 billion share buyback program.

Shares of Chesapeake Energy Corp.

CHK, +10.92%

rallied 9.3% after the company posted better-than-expected revenue and earnings for the fourth quarter and provided an upbeat outlook.

Shares of Campbell Soup Co.

CPB, +7.17%

jumped 7.9% after the food company reported a fiscal second-quarter profit and affirmed its full-year outlook.

How are other markets trading?

Asian markets closed mostly higher as the Nikkei 225

NIK, +0.50%

and Shanghai Composite Index

SHCOMP, +0.42%

advanced. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index

HSI, -0.05%

however, shed 0.1% on the day.

European stocks were in retreat with the Stoxx Europe 600

SXXP, -0.28%

down 0.3%.

In commodities markets, crude oil prices

CLJ9, +3.21%

rose more than 2%, gold prices

GCJ9, -0.47%

were retreating, while the dollar

DXY, +0.11%

also edged lower.

—Mark DeCambre contributed to this article

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