Energy drags Wall St lower; S&P down slightly in August

People walk outside of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City. Stocks ended lower on Wall Street on Wednesday (Aug 31), as energy shares tracked oil prices lower.
People walk outside of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City. Stocks ended lower on Wall Street on Wednesday (Aug 31), as energy shares tracked oil prices lower. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Stocks ended lower on Wall Street on Wednesday (Aug 31), as energy shares tracked oil prices lower, and the S&P posted a loss for August, the first negative month for the benchmark index since February.

The Nasdaq gained 1 per cent in August and the S&P shed 0.1 per cent, speaking to stocks' resiliency after the S&P hit an all-time high mid-month. It ended Wednesday within 1 per cent of its record close.

The energy sector of the S&P 500 ended 1.4 per cent lower on Wednesday, its largest daily decline in three weeks, as US crude futures fell more than 3 per cent.

Data earlier showed the private sector created 177,000 jobs in August, in line with expectations, and contracts to buy previously owned homes surged in July, suggesting the economy was regaining sufficient momentum for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates this year.

The strong numbers sharpened the focus on Friday's payrolls report.

"If we get another strong number, that's going to tell you the (Fed) has to raise rates in September all things being equal," said Kim Forrest, senior equity research analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh. "They telegraphed this in the last week, explicitly."

Strong economic data and comment from central bank officials have increased bets that the Fed will raise rates at least once before the end of the year.

This has created a shift in stock market leadership, away from defensive, high-yielding sectors and into cyclicals like industrials and technology.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 53.42 points, or 0.29 per cent, to 18,400.88, the S&P 500 lost 5.17 points, or 0.24 per cent, to 2,170.95 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 9.77 points, or 0.19 per cent, to 5,213.22.

About 6.82 billion shares changed hands in US exchanges, compared with the 5.98 billion daily average over the last 20 sessions.

Palo Alto Networks dropped 7.2 per cent to US$133.17 after the cyber security firm late on Tuesday forecast current-quarter profit and revenue below analysts' estimates.

H&R Block was the top percentage loser on the S&P 500, falling 10.5 per cent after the US tax preparer reported quarterly revenue that missed analysts' expectations by a large margin.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.69-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, a 1.73-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 14 new 52-week highs and two new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 103 new highs and 22 new lows.