U.S. equities finished lower, as anxiety over trade ratcheted higher with the U.S. and European Union trading barbs over possible tariffs, and as the IMF lowered its 2019 global growth outlook. Treasury yields and the U.S. dollar were lower following some disappointing domestic economic data, with reads on small business optimism and job openings coming in short of forecasts. Crude oil prices fell, paring recent gains that came amid renewed conflicts in Libya, and gold was higher.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) declined 190 points (0.7%) to 26,151, the S&P 500 Index was down 18 points (0.6%) at 2,878, and the NASDAQ Composite decreased 45 points (0.6%) to 7,909. In moderate volume, 717 million shares were traded on the NYSE and 2.0 billion shares changed hands on the NASDAQ. WTI crude oil lost $0.42 to $63.98 per barrel and wholesale gasoline was up $0.01 at $2.00 per gallon. Elsewhere, the Bloomberg gold spot price increased $6.61 to $1,304.09 per ounce, and the Dollar Index—a comparison of the U.S. dollar to six major world currencies—was 0.1% lower at 97.00.
The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Small Business Optimism Index for March rose slightly to 101.8 from February’s unrevised 101.7 level, and versus the Bloomberg expectation of an increase to 102.0. The report showed labor market indicators improved, the outlook for expansion, real sales and reports of rising earnings gained ground, and capital spending plans held steady. The major soft spot was in inventories with stocks viewed as too large and plans to invest in inventories turning slightly negative as more firms planned reductions than additions. The NFIB said the index sits at a historically strong level and indicates that small businesses continue to power the economy after being briefly shaken by January’s government shutdown.
The Labor Department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS), a measure of unmet demand for labor, declined to 7.09 million jobs available to be filled in February from January’s upwardly-adjusted record high of 7.63 million, and below the forecasted 7.55 million. The hiring rate dipped to 3.8% from January’s 3.9% pace, and the separation rate remained at January’s level of 3.7%.
Treasuries were higher, as the yields on the 2-year note and 30-year bond decreased 1 basis point to 2.34% and 2.91%, respectively, while the yield on the 10-year note fell 2 basis points to 2.50%.
The first look at the March inflation landscape will come tomorrow, courtesy of the Consumer Price Index (CPI), forecasted to show a 0.4% m/m increase for the month following the 0.2% rise seen in February, while the core rate, which excludes food and energy, is estimated to be 0.2% higher m/m, after gaining 0.1% the month prior. Early on, MBA Mortgage Applications will be reported, and in afternoon action the Federal Reserve will release the minutes from its March monetary policy meeting, where it kept rates unchanged and offered up a subdued global outlook and a slightly more dovish tone..
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