Stocks slumped again on Thursday after job cuts announced this morning by heavy equipment manufacturer Caterpillar ( CAT ) ignited more worries over the global economy. Industrial metals also continued their slide today, sending mining stocks sharply lower, following sluggish data for August durable goods orders. Led by a steep decline for Caterpillar, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell to its lowest level so far this month and was flirting with technical support at its 16,000 level. Nine of the 10 sectors in the S&P 500 were in the red, with only utility stocks remaining on the plus side as yield-hungry investors swap Treasury notes for higher yielding utility dividends.
Due to a stronger dollar stifling foreign demand for U.S. goods made to last longer than three years, durable goods orders fell 2.0% in August, matching estimates but more than wiping out a revised 1.9% gain for July. Excluding the transportation sector, durable goods orders also were unchanged, trailing estimates for a 0.3% gain. July durable goods orders ex-transportation were also revised downward to a 0.4% rise from the 0.6% advance initially reported.
The Chicago Fed found that business activity in the U.S. also deteriorated as their national index plummeted to a negative 0.41 reading last month from a positive 0.51 score in July.
But the news wasn't all bad: new home sales jumped 5.7% over year-ago levels to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 552,000, beating estimates for a 1.6% gain and a 515,000 annualized pace. The Kansas City Fed manufacturing index also improved slightly to negative 8 reading this month from negative 9 in August.
Additionally, initial jobless claims increased by a benign 3,000 to 267,000 applications during the week ended Sept. 19, far less than forecasts for an 11,000 rise to 275,000 first-time gains.
European markets closed significantly lower, giving up early gains tied to an unexpected increase in a key German economic indicator. German stocks led Europe's bourses lower, with recent allegations over vehicle emissions against German carmaker BMW caused the DAX to shed nearly 2%.
Crude oil was up 25 cents to $44.70 per barrel. Natural gas was down 3 cents to $2.61 per 1 million BTU. Gold was up $23.20 to $1,154.80 per ounce, while silver was up 32 cents to $15.11 per ounce. Copper was unchanged at $2.30 per pound.
Among energy ETFs, the United States Oil Fund was down 0.21% to $14.43 with the United States Natural Gas Fund was down 1.07% to $12.00. Among precious-metal funds, the Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF was up 6.11% to 14.07 while SPDR Gold Shares were up 2.28% to $110.69. The iShares Silver Trust was up 2.30% to $14.45.
Here's where the U.S. markets stood at mid-day:
NYSE Composite Index down 80.27 (-0.81%) to 9,787.63
Dow Jones Industrial Average down 180.92 (-1.11%) to 16,098.97
S&P 500 down 18.58 (-0.96%) to 1,920.18
Nasdaq Composite Index down 53.80 (-1.13%) to 4,698.95
Nikkei 225 Index down 2.76%
Hang Seng Index down 0.97%
Shanghai China Composite Index up 0.86%
FTSE 100 Index down 1.17%
CAC 40 down 1.93%
DAX down 1.92%
NYSE SECTOR INDICES
NYSE Energy Sector Index down 0.50%
NYSE Financial Sector Index down 0.93%
NYSE Healthcare Sector Index down 1.17%
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