Investors looked warily at forecasts for poor U.S. corporate earnings and weaker growth in Asia and decided there wasn't much reason to buy stocks.
In early afternoon trading Monday, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 46 points at 13,563. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell six points to 1,455 and the Nasdaq composite gave up 27 points to 3,108.
Companies in the S&P 500 index are expected to post an overall decline in profits for the first time in 11 quarters when earnings season starts on Tuesday, according to FactSet.
Tuesday will be the five-year anniversary of the S&P's high close of 1,565.15. It's still almost 7 percent below that level.
Stocks have been on a strong run, with the Dow up 11 percent this year and the S&P 500 — a benchmark tracked by many mutual funds — up almost 16 percent. But Asia's slowdown, Europe's problems, and now weak U.S. corporate earnings have caused some investors to wonder if the run-up has been too far, too fast.
The World Bank warned that a "more pronounced slowdown" is possible in China, the world's second-largest economy. It also cut its overall growth forecast for developing countries in Asia.
Slower growth in Asia could drag down the U.S. economy. One of the few bright points for the U.S. during the recession was tremendous growth in export demand by developing nations in Asia and other regions.
Even though the U.S. economy isn't doing badly, investors have been counting on growth in Asia for help, said Rex Macey, chief investment officer at Wilmington Trust Investment Advisors. "There was a point where we said 'Thank goodness for Asia and China. Their growth can fuel the recovery." That's not so clear anymore, he said.
Stocks and industries that depend most heavily on U.S. economic growth were among the biggest losers on Monday. Apple fell $13.07 to $639.60 and Intel fell 22 cents to $2.46. Home Depot fell $1.03 to $62.17 and Walt Disney lost 8 cents to $52.17.
Wal-Mart Stores and American Express shares didn't move much after they announced a reloadable prepaid card with no recurring or overdraft fees. But the news hammered shares of prepaid card competitor Green Dot Corp., which has also offered a card with Wal-Mart. Green Dot fell $2.57, or 20 percent, to $10.28.
UnitedHealth Group rose 41 cents to $57.54 after the health insurer said it would pay $4.9 billion in cash to buy most of Brazilian health benefits and hospital services provider Amil Participacoes.
Truck and engine maker Navistar rose $1.70, or 8 percent, to $22.91 after saying it will add two board members associated with activist investors, heading off a proxy battle.
European markets were also lower. The CAC-40 in France fell 1.5 percent, the FTSE 100 in Britain was down 0.5 percent, and the German DAX was down 1.4 percent.
U.S. government bond trading was closed for the Columbus Day holiday.
- Investment & Company Information