Wall St falls on government shutdown fears, oil swoon

The White House said on Tuesday it has found a way to build President Donald Trump’s promised border wall without new funding from Congress, but the plan is hitting a wall of its own with Democrats rejecting it.
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - US stocks gave up their gains on Tuesday (Dec 18) as energy stocks were weighed by a steep drop in oil prices and as the possibility of a partial government shutdown loomed.

US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Democrats had rejected his spending Bill proposal. Without the passage of a spending Bill, several government agencies are at risk of a shutdown.

Meanwhile, oil prices tumbled more than 5 per cent on concerns of US oversupply. S&P 500 energy stocks fell 2.4 per cent as a result.

"In the short run, there's a heightened state of anxiety based off of whether there's a government shutdown or not, which is adding a layer of uncertainty to overall financial markets as well as the US economy," said Chad Morganlander, senior portfolio manager at Washington Crossing Advisors in Florham Park, New Jersey.

The benchmark S&P 500 ended Monday at a 14-month low. The index has struggled to hold onto gains in a particularly volatile December in the backdrop of worries about global growth, rates and the China-US trade war.

Even as US stocks rose earlier in Tuesday's session, both US Treasury prices and the Cboe Volatility Index, often referred to as Wall Street's "fear gauge," rose.

"That tells me it's a very, very nervous market," said JJ Kinahan, chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade in Chicago.

The Federal Open Market Committee began a two-day meeting in which it will decide upon its course of interest-rate hikes, on Tuesday. Market participants widely expect the Fed Reserve to raise benchmark US rates this month, but some investors anticipate that the US central bank will indicate fewer rate hikes for 2019 than previously expected.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 28.22 points, or 0.12 per cent, to 23,564.76, the S&P 500 lost 12.2 points, or 0.48 per cent, to 2,533.74 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 4.65 points, or 0.07 per cent, to 6,749.08.

Despite Tuesday's losses, several stocks managed to reverse a pattern of declines.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc shares rose 1.7 per cent to snap a nine-day losing streak related to the 1MDB scandal.

Shares of Boeing rose 3.5 per cent after three days of losses as the aerospace company said it was raising its dividend and increasing share buybacks to US$20 billion (S$27 billion) from US$18 billion.

Johnson & Johnson rose 0.7 per cent, after a near 13 per cent drop over two days on a Reuters report that J&J knew for decades that its Baby Powder contained asbestos.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.18-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.43-to-1 ratio favoured decliners.

The S&P 500 posted no new 52-week highs and 84 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded eight new highs and 479 new lows.