Wall Street ends sharply lower on nervousness over falling oil prices and US earnings

Traders working on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday.
Traders working on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - US stocks sank on Wednesday (Jan 13), pushing the S&P 500 to end below 1,900 for the first time since September and extending the year's sharp sell-off, on nervousness over tumbling oil prices and US earnings.

Stocks started the day higher but sentiment turned negative in afternoon trading as a brief rally in beaten-down oil prices stalled.

All 10 S&P 500 sectors ended in the red, with decliners outpacing advancing issues on the NYSE by a ratio of 7.64 to 1 and by 6.35 to 1 on the Nasdaq.

"We've been in capital preservation mode since the year began and as the market has shown an inability to rally with any conviction, that's only increased the level of nervousness and that seemed to have spilled over today in a very significant way," said Mr Michael James, managing director of equity trading at Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles.

The declines ended a two-day rebound for the S&P 500 and resumed the steep sell-off that began at the start of the year amid concerns about a slowdown in China and global growth.

The S&P 500 is now down 11.3 per cent from its May 21 closing lifetime high, while the Russell 2000 small-cap index dropped 3.3 per cent, putting it in bear market territory. The Russell index is down 22 per cent from its June 2015 record close.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 364.81 points, or 2.21 per cent, to 16,151.41, the S&P 500 had lost 48.4 points, or 2.5 per cent, to 1,890.28 and the Nasdaq Composite had dropped 159.85 points, or 3.41 per cent, to 4,526.07.

The CBOE Volatility index, Wall Street's favourite gauge of uncertainty, gained 12.2 per cent.

The market has put together 10 intraday rallies at the outset of 2016, and every single one has failed to sustain itself.

Analysts said nervousness about fourth-quarter earnings added to the bearish tone. CSX was down 5.7 per cent at US$22.35 after the railroad company's fourth-quarter profit fell on declining freight volumes. "Today we gapped open again and the buyers retreated. There's no catalyst to really take it higher. If you start getting bank and other earnings that are really bad, nothing is going to hold," said Mr Ken Polcari, director of the NYSE floor division at O'Neil Securities in New York.

Amazon fell 5.8 per cent to US$581.81 and was among the biggest drags on the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq.

About 9.8 billion shares changed hands on US exchanges, compared with the 7.5 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters data.

The S&P 500 posted 2 new 52-week highs and 108 new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 7 new highs and 510 new lows.