U.S. stocks traded sharply lower Wednesday, with the blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbling more than 200 points, as U.S. businesses spent less on investment for a sixth straight month in February, causing concerns for investors as a strengthening dollar will continue to weigh on corporate profits from U.S. multinationals ahead of earnings season. Investor sentiment also declined after U.S. crude stockpiles remained at a record high for the 11th consecutive week, the most at any time in at least 80 years.
In afternoon trading Wednesday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEXDJX:.DJI), which measures the share prices of 30 large industrial companies, dropped 207.19 points, or 1.15 percent, to 17,803.95. The Standard & Poor's 500 (INDEXNASDAQ:.IXIC) lost 18.17 points, or 0.87 percent, to 2,073.38. The Nasdaq composite (INDEXSP:.INX) fell 81.61 points, or 1.63 percent, to 4,913.12.
U.S. business investment spending plans fell for a sixth straight month in February, weighed down by a strengthening dollar, weak global demand and restrained activity due to poor weather. Non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, a closely watched barometer for business spending plans, dropped 1.4 percent last month after a revised 0.1 percent dip in January, the Commerce Department said Wednesday.
Investors fear continued strength in the dollar will slow U.S. earnings growth. A prolonged period of dollar strengthening would hurt U.S. multinational corporations once they convert foreign revenue to dollars as nearly half of the S&P 500’s revenues are derived from overseas.
Separately, U.S. commercial crude oil inventories rose by 8.2 million barrels to 466.7 million barrels for the week ended March 20, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said Wednesday. Following the report, Brent crude, the benchmark for global oil prices, edged up 0.56 percent to $55.42 a barrel, for May 15 delivery on the London ICE Futures Exchange. West Texas Intermediate crude, the benchmark for U.S. oil prices, added 0.51 percent to close at $47.75 a barrel for May 15 delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Investor confidence also was weighed down Wednesday on ongoing Greek debt negotiations, which are needed for the country to avoid default and exit the eurozone. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras are meeting this week in Berlin to discuss Greece’s economic reform proposals, as Athens runs the risks of going bankrupt by April unless its economic reform proposals are approved by its creditors. Athens could be pushed into default if it fails to repay 460 million euros ($502.5 million) it owes the International Monetary Fund on April 9, Deutsche Bank said Tuesday.
Meanwhile, shares of Kraft Foods Group Inc. (NASDAQ:KRFT) soared more than 40 percent Wednesday to $86.01 after H.J. Heinz Company announced it will buy the company for an estimated $40 billion, creating the world’s fifth-largest food and beverage company, with annual revenue of $28 billion.