Stocks: Bad month, bad year (so far)

February 02 01:23 2015

Stocks ended on the losing side of another volatile day of trading Friday, the Dow tumbling 252 points, or 1.5%, and the S&P 500 sinking below the 2000 level. The Dow, now at 17,164.95, is down 4.9% from its high — just below the 5% that constitutes a technical “pullback.” On the last day of a blustery and bearish January, stocks slid in reaction to a weaker-than-expected reading on economic growth in the final quarter of 2014.stock_market_01

Oil prices rocketed up in late afternoon trading, with U.S. benchmark crude up about 7%. It’s been a tough 2015 for major benchmarks. The Dow Jones industrial average is off 3.7%. The Russell 2000 is 3.3% lower while the S&P 500 — which dove 26 points or 1.3% Friday — is off 3.1% for the calendar year so far. The Nasdaq composite fared best on Friday and is doing better for the year — losing “only” 1% Friday and down 2.1% for 2015.

Gross domestic product expanded at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 2.6% in the three months ended Dec. 31, the Commerce Department said Friday. That was down from a 5% pace in the third quarter and below the 3.1% estimate economists were expecting. Asian stock markets were mixed. Japan’s Nikkei 225 rose 0.4% as the nation’s industrial output edged higher in December, suggesting the world’s third-largest economy may be turning the corner on a recession brought on by a hefty sales tax hike.

In China, investor sentiment weakened ahead of the release of monthly factory data. The country’s official purchasing managers’ index is due out Sunday, followed by a similar survey by HSBC on Monday. China’s Shanghai composite declined 1.6%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index dropped 0.4%. European shares were lower as sentiment was dented by a report showing eurozone consumer prices fell 0.6% in the year to January. The figures raise the risks of an extended drop in prices, which can hurt growth for years, and come as the European Central Bank is about to launch an aggressive stimulus program to push inflation higher. Britain’s FTSE 100 was down 0.2% and Germany’s DAX index fell 0.1%.