U.S. Stocks Finish Lackluster Session Mostly Lower

After ending the previous session modestly higher, stocks showed a lack of direction over the course of the trading day on Tuesday. The major averages bounced back and forth across the unchanged line before eventually closing in negative territory.

The Dow slid 232.39 points or 0.7 percent to 32,656.70, ending the session at its lowest closing level in well over three months. The S&P 500 fell 12.09 points or 0.3 percent to 3,970.15, while the Nasdaq edged down 11.44 points or 0.1 percent to 11,455.54.

The lackluster performance on Wall Street came as traders seemed reluctant to make more significant moves amid ongoing concerns about the outlook for interest rates.

In the coming days, traders are likely to keep an eye on reports on weekly jobless claims and manufacturing and service sector activity.

The data could shed additional light on the strength of the economy and provide further clues about how much the Federal Reserve is likely to raise interest rates.

In U.S. economic news, MNI Indicators released a report showing Chicago-area business activity unexpectedly contracted at a slightly faster rate in the month of February.

MNI Indicators said its Chicago business barometer edged down to 43.6 in February from 44.3 in January, with a reading below 50 indicating a contraction. Economists had expected the Chicago business barometer to inch up to 45.0.

A separate report released by the Conference Board showed U.S. consumer confidence unexpectedly decreased for the second consecutive month in February.

The Conference Board said its consumer confidence index slid to 102.9 in February from a downwardly revised 106.0 in January.

The continued decrease surprised economists, who had expected the consumer confidence index to inch up to 108.5 from the 107.1 originally reported for the previous month.

“The decrease reflected large drops in confidence for households aged 35 to 54 and for households earning $35,000 or more,” said Ataman Ozyildirim, Senior Director, Economics at The Conference Board.

Sector News

Oil stocks showed a significant move to the downside on the day, dragging the NYSE Arca Oil Index down by 1.8 percent.

The weakness in the sector came despite a sharp increase by the price of crude oil, as crude for April delivery surged $1.37 or 1.8 percent to $77.05 a barrel.

Interest rate-sensitive utilities stocks also came under pressure, with the Dow Jones Utility Average falling by 1.7 percent to its lowest closing level in over three months.

Natural gas and pharmaceutical stocks also saw notable weakness, while steel and gold stocks moved to the upside on the day.

Other Markets

In overseas trading, stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region moved mostly higher during trading on Tuesday. Japan’s Nikkei 225 Index inched up by 0.1 percent, while China’s Shanghai Composite Index advanced by 0.7 percent.

Meanwhile, the major European markets are turning in a mixed performance on the day. While the German DAX Index is up by 0.1 percent, the French CAC 40 Index is down by 0.2 percent and the U.K.’s FTSE 100 Index is down by 0.8 percent.

In the bond market, treasuries recovered from early weakness to end the day roughly flat. As a result, the yield on the benchmark ten-year note, which moves opposite of its price, edged down by less than a basis point to 3.916 percent.

Looking Ahead

Trading on Wednesday may be impacted by reaction to the Institute for Supply Management’s report on manufacturing activity in the month of February.

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