Wall Street falls on dour economic data, corporate earnings

(Reuters) – U.S. stocks fell on Wednesday as dismal economic data and first-quarter earnings reports compounded concerns over the extent of damage from the coronavirus outbreak.

Shares of Bank of America (BAC.N) and Citigroup Inc (C.N) dropped as they joined JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) and Wells Fargo & Co (WFC.N) in reporting a slump in first-quarter profits.

Also, Goldman Sachs Group Inc’s (GS.N) quarterly profit nearly halved, as it set aside more money to cover for corporate loans expected to go bust in the coming months.

In further evidence of economic damage from the coronavirus, U.S. retail sales plunged 8.7% in March, manufacturing output dropped by the most in over 74 years and a survey showed manufacturing activity in New York state plunged in April to its lowest in the series’ history.

Disappointing bank earnings are adding to worries about prospects for the rest of the corporate reporting period, said Paul Nolte, portfolio manager at Kingsview Investment Management in Chicago.

In the coming weeks, “it’s going to be more important to look at companies… from a debt perspective,” he said, noting: “I’m not sure the recovery is going to be as strong as everybody is saying.”

The International Monetary Fund has predicted that this year the global economy would witness its sharpest slump since the 1930s.

U.S. stocks have recovered from their March trough, boosted by a raft of U.S. monetary and fiscal stimulus and on early signs that coronavirus cases were peaking in some hotspots. However, the S&P 500 is still down about 18% from its Feb. 19 record closing high.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI fell 445.41 points, or 1.86%, to 23,504.35, the S&P 500 .SPX lost 62.7 points, or 2.20%, to 2,783.36 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 122.56 points, or 1.44%, to 8,393.18.

J.C. Penney Co Inc (JCP.N) shares dropped 27.3% as sources said the retailer was exploring filing for bankruptcy protection after the virus outbreak upended its turnaround plans.

Shares of Citigroup and Bank of America were down more than 5% each on the day, while Goldman’s stock ended nearly flat. “Loan loss reserves were greater than expected in the first quarter, and it sounds like it might continue into the second quarter. We saw it yesterday and got a confirmation of the trend today,” said Barclays analyst Jason Goldberg.

Goldman did better, he said, because “lending is a smaller component of their business.”

Analysts expect S&P 500 earnings to have fallen 12.8% in the first quarter, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

The biggest U.S. health insurer UnitedHealth Group Inc (UNH.N) rose 4.1% as it maintained its 2020 profit outlook at a time when major companies have withdrawn forecasts due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The CBOE volatility index also climbed after closing Tuesday at its lowest level since March 5.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 10.95 billion shares, compared to the 14.28 billion average for the full session over the last 20 trading days.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 4.74-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 3.43-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 8 new 52-week highs and 1 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 26 new highs and 27 new lows.

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