US: Stocks end chaotic week lower as more earnings loom

[New York] US stocks finished a chaotic week on a high note as a rally that started mid-day on Thursday accelerated on Friday. But it wasn't enough to offset losses earlier in the week.

All three major indices fell for a fourth week in a row, albeit by less than last week.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average shed 163.69 points (0.99 per cent) to 16,380.41.

The broad-based S&P 500 fell 19.37 (1.02 per cent) to 1,886.76, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index lost 17.80 (0.42 per cent) to 4,258.44.

Wall Street equities veered near correction territory at midweek as worry about another eurozone crisis collided with fears about the spread of the Ebola virus to push markets deep into the red.

For Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank, the low-point came with news that a nurse from Dallas with Ebola had boarded a commercial flight just prior to being diagnosed with the deadly virus.

"That's when nerves were really frayed and investors were really worried," he said, timing the news to a plunge in the Dow well bellow 16,000.

Wednesday's selloff was also spurred by a pair of surprisingly weak indicators for September that suggested the US economy may not be as strong as is widely thought.

The Commerce Department reported that US retail sales dropped 0.3 per cent, the first decline in seven months, while the Labor Department said US producer prices dipped 0.1 per cent in the first monthly fall since August 2013.

Those weak figures were offset on Thursday as markets smiled at news of a 1.0 per cent gain in US industrial production in September and a drop in weekly jobless claims to a 14-year low.

Also Thursday, James Bullard, head of the St Louis branch of the Fed, suggested the central bank could extend its bond-buying program rather than winding it down, as had been expected.

Bullard told Bloomberg Television he was concerned about falling inflation forecasts and said quantitative easing - the Fed's large-scale bond-buying program - should continue.

Bullard's remarks were "enormously important," said Alan Skrainka, chief investment officer of Cornerstone Wealth Management.

"His softening his tone is just the beginning of what we're gonna hear from other Fed officials," Skrainka said. "It's clear that more accommodation is going to be needed given the fragility of the global economy."

Third-quarter earnings season yielded both good and bad news.

On the positive side, US industrial giant General Electric reported a solid 10.8 per cent jump in earnings to US$3.5 billion behind higher sales in most industrial segments as chief executive Jeff Immelt effused on the US economy.

"The US is probably the best we have seen it since the financial crisis," Immelt said, while describing global conditions as "volatile." Delta Air Lines sparked a rally in beaten-down airline shares as it offered a bullish fourth-quarter outlook and expressed confidence at the industry's ability to manage Ebola.

"This isn't the first communicable disease that we have faced as an airline or an industry, and we are well versed at managing these type of events," said Delta chief operating officer Gil West.

Banking earnings were a mixed bag as JPMorgan Chase missed analyst expectations on unexpectedly large legal costs. But results at Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley were strong.

Google disappointed market watchers as net income for the third quarter dropped five per cent to US$2.8 billion due to weak online ad revenues.

Apparel teen retailer Urban Outfitters prompted a sell-off of the sector following a profit warning due to weak sales. Earlier in the week, the much bigger Wal-Mart Stores lowered its sales forecast for the year.

Earnings season continues to heat up next week with reports from tech giants Apple and Amazon, industrial players Boeing and General Motors and consumer products companies, including Procter & Gamble.

The week's economic reports include existing-home sales for September and the Conference Board's index of leading indicators. AFP

BT is now on Telegram!

For daily updates on weekdays and specially selected content for the weekend. Subscribe to