Stocks fall on weak Caterpillar earnings

Stocks broke a four-day streak of record closes Wednesday as weak Caterpillar earnings and falling oil prices hurt energy stocks. Caterpillar, which makes mining and construction equipment, is considered an important barometer of the global economy.

Brendan McDermid/Reuters
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Wednesday. Stocks fell after construction-giant Caterpillar reported weak earnings.

A four-day streak of record closes ended for the Standard & Poor's 500 index Wednesday after Caterpillar reported weak earnings and falling oil prices hurt energy stocks.

Caterpillar, which makes mining and construction equipment, is considered an important barometer of the global economy. The plunge in Caterpillar's third-quarter profit discouraged investors and stalled a two-week surge in the stock market. Energy stocksdropped as the price of oil fell to its lowest in almost four months.

The S&P 500 had surged 6 percent over the previous two weeks. The index climbed as lawmakers inched toward a deal to end a 16-day partial government shutdown and avert a potential U.S. default. Investors also became more convinced that the Federal Reserve will refrain from easing back on its economic stimulus until possibly next year.

"We need to let a little bit of air out of the balloon here," said Alec Young, a global equity strategist at S&P Capital IQ. "We've seen a huge rally, so there's a bit of short-term-exhaustion."

The S&P 500 dropped 8.29 points, or 0.5 percent, to 1,746.38, ending its longest streak of record closes since mid-May.

Energy stocks fell the most of the 10 industry sectors in the S&P 500. Oil slipped $1.42, or 1.4 percent, to $97.80 a barrel, on higher U.S. supplies of crude and weak demand for fuel.

Along with weaker earnings, Caterpillar issued a lower profit forecast. Its stock dropped $5.41, or 6.1 percent, to $83.76.

Broadcom was another company that disappointed Wall Street with its third-quarter earnings. The communications chip maker fell 78 cents or 2.9 percent, to $26.36, reported adjusted results that exceeded Wall Street expectations, but the company's earnings forecast was weak.

It wasn't all bad news from corporate America.

Boeing raised its profit estimate for the full year because deliveries of commercial planes continue to accelerate. The plane maker'sstock climbed $6.54, or 5.3 percent, to $129.02.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 54.33 points, or 0.4 percent, to 15,413.33 The Nasdaq composite dropped 22.49 points, or 0.6 percent, to 3,907.07.

While some earnings disappointed investors on Wednesday, most are reporting profits that are better than expected. About sixty percent of the companies in the S&P 500 that have reported third-quarter earnings have beaten analysts' forecasts, according to data from S&P Capital IQ.

"Obviously we've had one casualty today with Caterpillar but, so far, most companies have beaten market expectations," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital.

S&P 500 companies are expected to report earnings growth of 3.5 percent for the July-to-September quarter over the same period a year earlier. Revenue is expected to rise by 3.9 percent.

In government bond trading, the yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.50 percent from 2.51 percent late Tuesday.

The yield, which is used to set interest rates on many kinds of loans including mortgages, is the lowest it's been since mid-July. It has fallen 0.5 percent since reaching a high for the year of 3 percent on Sept. 5. Investors have bought Treasurys, pushing down their yield, as the outlook for economic growth has weakened since the government shutdown.

The slowdown has an upside, though. Many analysts and economists expect the Fed to continue its economic stimulus until next year to help the economy maintain its momentum after the government shutdown. The central bank is currently buying $85 billion in bonds every month to keep interest rates low. That stimulus program has underpinned a 4 ½ year rally in stocks.

In commodities, the price of gold fell $8.60, or 0.6 percent, to $1,334 an ounce.

Among other stocks making big moves:

— Corning surged $2.17, or 14.1 percent, to $17.52 after the company announced a new tie-up with a Samsung Electronics subsidiary that will boost the glass maker's earnings immediately.

— Safeway rose $2.68, or 8.1 percent, to $35.58 following a report from Reuters late yesterday that "a handful" of buyout firms, including Cerberus Capital Management, are exploring a deal for all, or part, of the supermarket chain.

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