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US STOCKS-Wall Street drops as high-flying tech stocks retreat

Noel Randewich
·3 min read
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(For a Reuters live blog on U.S., UK and European stock markets, click LIVE/ or type LIVE/ in a news window)

* U.S. private payrolls rise less than expected in Feb

* Financial and industrial indexes hit intra-day records (Updates following close of session)

By Noel Randewich

March 3 (Reuters) - The Nasdaq ended sharply lower on Wednesday after investors sold high-flying technology shares and pivoted to sectors viewed as more likely to benefit from an economic recovery on the back of fiscal stimulus and vaccination programs.

Microsoft Corp, Apple Inc and Amazon.com Inc dropped more than 2%, weighing more than any other stocks on the S&P 500.

The S&P 500 financial and industrial sector indexes reached intra-day record highs. Most other S&P 500 sectors declined.

"Today is the perfect encapsulation of the big theme we've been seeing in the past couple of months: The vaccine rollout is going well and the economy improving, and that is sending yields and rate expectations higher, which is hurting growth stocks," said Baird investment strategist Ross Mayfield, in Louisville, Kentucky.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.39% to end at 31,270.09 points, while the S&P 500 lost 1.31% to 3,819.72.

The Nasdaq Composite dropped 2.7% to 12,997.75. That left it at its lowest since early January and reduced its gain in 2021 to less than 1%.

The U.S. economic recovery continued at a modest pace over the first weeks of this year, with businesses optimistic about the months to come and demand for housing "robust," but only slow improvement in the job market, the Federal Reserve reported.

While the vaccine distribution is expected to help the economy, data showed U.S. private employers hired fewer workers than expected in February, suggesting the labor market was struggling to regain speed.

Another report showed U.S. services industry activity unexpectedly slowed in February amid winter storms, while a measure of prices paid by companies for inputs surged to the highest level in nearly 12-1/2 years.

The U.S. 10-year Treasury yield ticked up to 1.47%, pressuring areas of the market with high valuations. It was still off last week's peak of above 1.61% that roiled stock markets as investors bet on rising inflation.

Rising interest rates disproportionately hurt high-growth tech companies because investors value them based on earnings expected years into the future, and high interest rates hurt the value of future earnings more than the value of earnings made in the short term.

"There is a definite headwind for equity markets if yields go above the 1.5% level with most investors keeping an eye on the pace of yield growth," said Michael Stritch, chief investment officer at BMO Wealth Management.

President Joe Biden's proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill would phase out $1,400 payments to high-income Americans in a compromise with moderate Democratic senators, according to lawmakers and media reports.

Exxon Mobil Corp rose 0.8% after the oil major unveiled plans to grow dividends and curb spending with projections that were less bold than previous years.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.31-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.95-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 62 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 284 new highs and 68 new lows.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 14 billion shares, compared with the 14.9 billion average for the full session over the last 20 trading days. (Reporting by Noel Randewich in Oakland, California; Additional reporting by Shashank Nayar and Medha Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)