Stocks fell on Thursday as the dollar's rebound spurred a safe-haven trade, cutting demand for riskier assets, while a soft profit outlook from economic bellwether FedEx sank transportation shares.
Financial services stocks took a beating after influential banking analyst Meredith Whitney cut her earnings estimates on Goldman Sachs Group Inc
The U.S. dollar index <.DXY>, which measures the greenback's performance against a basket of major currencies, rose nearly 1 percent -- hitting its highest level in more than three months.
In recent months, stocks have risen sharply while the greenback dropped, as investors took advantage of the inexpensive currency to buy higher-yielding assets.
The dollar is starting to spook the market here a little bit, said Terry Morris, senior vice president and senior equity manager for National Penn Investors Trust Company in Reading, Pennsylvania.
An unexpected increase in new claims for jobless benefits in the latest week illustrated the bumpy road for the U.S. economic recovery. The jobless claims offered a sharp contrast to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, whose index showed factory activity accelerated rapidly in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic region in December.
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> dropped 132.86 points, or 1.27 percent, to end at 10,308.26. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> fell 13.10 points, or 1.18 percent, to 1,096.08. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> lost 26.86 points, or 1.22 percent, to close at 2,180.05.
The market shuddered after FedEx Corp
Whitney trimmed earnings estimates for Goldman and Morgan for 2010 and 2011. Goldman Sachs shares dropped 2.5 percent to $160.93, while Morgan Stanley shed 4 percent to $29.12.
The S&P Financial Index <.GSPF> slid 1.8 percent, while the NYSE Arca Broker/Dealer Index <.XBD> fell 2 percent.
RIM SOARS AFTER THE BELL
Research In Motion's
Software maker Oracle Corp
During the regular session, the dollar's spike coincided with a slide of nearly 3 percent in the price of gold. The sell-off in gold futures hurt the shares of U.S.-listed gold miners. The Arca Gold Bugs index <.HUI>, which measures the performance of 15 gold miners with U.S-traded shares, tumbled 5.9 percent.
The U.S. Senate Banking Committee approved the nomination of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke for a second term, sending it to the full Senate for a confirmation vote. The outcome of the vote appeared to barely affect stocks.
Among other factors influencing the market's tone, analysts
pointed to the impact of Friday's quarterly expiration of December options and futures, also known as quadruple witching. This often adds high levels of volatility as players adjust and/or exercise their derivatives positions.
Volume was above average on the New York Stock Exchange, with 1.72 billion shares changing hands, well above last year's estimated daily average of 1.49 billion, while on the Nasdaq, about 1.94 billion shares traded, below last year's daily average of 2.28 billion.
Declining stocks outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a ratio of about 11 to 4, while on the Nasdaq, about 20 stocks fell for every seven that rose.
(Editing by Jan Paschal)