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US STOCKS-Wall Street falls as stimulus rally cools, Tesla hits record high

Karen Pierog and Caroline Valetkevitch
·3 min read

(For a live blog on the U.S. stock market, click or type LIVE/ in a news window)

* 'Quadruple witching' to push up volumes, volatility

* Tesla rises in high-volume trade

* Indexes down: Dow 0.7%, S&P 500 0.7%, Nasdaq 0.3% (Updates to late afternoon)

By Karen Pierog and Caroline Valetkevitch

Dec 18 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks declined on Friday, pulled down by uncertainty around a coronavirus stimulus deal, while Tesla shares hit a lifetime high in anticipation of their addition to the S&P 500 next week.

All three major indexes hit a record high at the opening before retreating. The S&P 500 technology index, which has led gains this week, was the biggest drag on the overall benchmark index, followed by health care.

Electric-car maker Tesla Inc rose 2.5% in heavy volume, will become on Monday the most valuable company to be ever added to Wall Street's main benchmark index.

"You're already seeing significant levels of volume in Tesla stock today, moving a lot higher as a lot of these different ETFs and mutual funds position ahead of the change to get us close to the price as possible for tracking error purposes," said Lindsey Bell, chief investment strategist at Ally Invest, in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Investors are seeing increased trading volumes in the day due to the expiration of stock index futures, stock index options, stock options and single stock futures at the end of trade, also known as quadruple witching. The U.S. Congress looked increasingly unlikely on Friday to meet a deadline to agree on $900 billion in fresh COVID-19 aid and instead may pass a third stopgap spending bill to keep the government from shutting down at midnight.

Recent weak economic data has increased pressure on lawmakers to reach a deal.

"Investors definitely want to see something come through or like to see something come through on the stimulus front sooner rather than later as COVID cases continue to rise and economic data has shown that it is beginning to deteriorate," Bell said.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 215.51 points, or 0.71%, to 30,087.86, the S&P 500 lost 27.36 points, or 0.73%, to 3,695.12 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 38.87 points, or 0.3%, to 12,725.88.

Trading could become more volatile heading into the close.

"There's a ton more volume, but I don't necessarily think it has a real directional basis," said Christopher Murphy, co-head of derivatives strategy at Susquehanna Financial Group. "Everyone really wanted a stimulus package by the end of today. If we're not going to get it, the market is going to be down. That's going to trump anything related to quad witching."

The prospect of continued monetary and fiscal stimulus has helped stocks look past the economic impact of the pandemic, and set them up for strong annual gains, despite a rocky start to the year.

FedEx Corp fell 5.3% after it did not give an earnings forecast for 2021, even as its quarterly profit almost doubled.

Rival United Parcel Service Inc's shares also dipped. ​ Microsoft Corp was down 1.2% after it said it found malicious software in its systems related to a massive hacking campaign disclosed by U.S. officials this week.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.41-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.11-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The S&P 500 posted 32 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 280 new highs and 7 new lows. (Reporting by Karen Pierog in Chicago and Caroline Valetkevitch in New York; Additional reporting by April Joyner in New York, Ambar Warrick and Shreyashi Sanyal in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel and Shounak Dasgupta)