S&P 500, Dow dip on oil price crash, earnings anxiety

(Reuters) – The S&P 500 and the Dow Jones headed lower on Monday following a strong two-week rally as oil prices crashed and investors grew cautious at the start of a week that is likely to bring more dismal quarterly earnings reports and economic data.

Energy stocks .SPNY shed 0.9% and were on track for their sixth slide in seven sessions as the U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) contract CLc1 fell more than 40% to its lowest since 1998 on concerns of oversupply.

The Nasdaq .IXIC outperformed the broader market on gains in Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) and Netflix Inc (NFLX.O) – deemed “stay-at-home” stocks as widespread lockdowns fueled demand for online streaming and home delivery of groceries.

S&P 500 firms have recovered about 30% – or $5.8 trillion in market value – since a March trough on a raft of global stimulus and hopes the virus was nearing a peak in the United States.

But the benchmark index remains about 15% below its all-time high and analysts have warned of a deep economic slump from the halt in business activity and millions of layoffs.

U.S. jobless claims touched 22 million in the four weeks to April 11, and analysts have forecast as many as 5 million more in the latest week. A reading of an April U.S. manufacturing survey, also due Thursday, is expected to slide to recession-era levels.

“Today is largely a give back of some of the previous gains as people are trying to assess whether it’s going to be six months or nine months or 12 months until the economy is back on regular footing,” said Dev Kantesaria, founder portfolio manager of hedge fund Valley Forge Capital Management in Wayne, Pennsylvania.

After U.S. banks kicked off the quarterly earnings season with painful forecasts for 2020, investors will keep a close watch on reports from Delta Air Lines Inc (DAL.N), Southwest Airlines Co (LUV.N) and Netflix later in the week.

Overall, analysts expect earnings for S&P 500 firms to fall 13.5% in the first quarter, according to IBES data from Refinitiv, while Goldman Sachs has predicted share buybacks will halve and dividends will slide 23% in 2020.

At 11:24 a.m. ET the Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI was down 211.69 points, or 0.87%, at 24,030.80, the S&P 500 .SPX was down 13.25 points, or 0.46%, at 2,861.31 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC was up 17.93 points, or 0.21%, at 8,668.07.

Hopes have also risen for a gradual reopening of the economy after President Donald Trump cited signs of plateauing in the virus outbreak last week and outlined new guidelines for states to pull out of shutdowns.

But his plan was thin on details and left the decision largely up to state governors. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday it could take weeks if not months before the country’s most populous city reopens due to a lack of widespread testing.

“The recovery will be much slower than the market is currently pricing in simply because social distancing measures can be relaxed but not removed until we have a vaccine or a very effective cure,” said Andrea Cicione, head of strategy at TS Lombard in London.

Most declines by midday were led by defensive stocks such as utilities .SPLRCU and real estate .SPLRCR, which fell about 2% each.

Bank stocks .SPXBX, on the other hand, tracked a decline in the benchmark 10-year Treasury yield US10YT=RR.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers more than 2-to-1 on the NYSE, while advancing issues matched decliners on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded seven new 52-week highs and no new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 33 new highs and eight new lows.

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