Wall Street’s three major domestic equity indexes closed lower on Thursday, with tobacco stocks leading the parade downward in consumer staples while concerns about smartphone demand hurt the technology sector and rising bond yields and earnings helped financials rebound.
The market pared some losses late in the session after Bloomberg reported that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told President Donald Trump last week he is not a target of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. The report cited two unnamed people familiar with the matter.
Philip Morris was the second largest weight on the S&P after weaker-than-expected results, also pulling down Altria.
A warning from Taiwan Semiconductor, the world’s largest contract chipmaker and an Apple supplier, on soft demand for smartphones and on the industry’s growth this year sparked a tumble in chip stocks and made Apple the S&P’s second biggest weight.
Along with weak results from Philip Morris and Procter & Gamble, defensive sectors such as consumer staples were also hurt by a rise in 10-year Treasury yields, which helped bank stocks.
When yields are high, investors favor bonds over defensive sectors such as consumer staples and real estate, which promise high dividends and slow, predictable growth. But banks benefit because high interest rates can boost their profits.
The S&P consumer staples sector was the benchmark’s biggest drag, closing down 3.2 percent, led by Philip Morris’ 15.6 percent slide. Altria, the parent of Philip Morris USA, fell 6 percent.
Procter & Gamble shares were down 3.3 percent after it said shrinking retailer inventories and higher commodities and transportation costs had squeezed its margins.
Apple shares fell 2.8 percent, making it the biggest drag on the S&P 500 on the day, as a raft of analysts said TSMC’s prediction of softer smartphone sales was driven chiefly by concern about demand for the company’s iPhones.
TSMC traded down 5.7 percent, while the Philadelphia SE semiconductor index fell 4.3 percent.
A 1.5 percent rise in the S&P’s financial sector was supported by a 7.6 percent rise in American Express due to strong earnings as well as climbing yields. However, the rising bond yields hurt homebuilders and the PHLX housing index fell 2.7 percent.
Of the 52 companies among the S&P 500 that have reported first-quarter earnings through Wednesday, 78.8 percent topped profit expectations, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Approximately 6.52 billion shares changed hands on the major domestic equity exchanges, as compared to the 6.98 billion-share average for the past 20 sessions.
Price of Crude Continues To Rise
Brent crude oil futures closed at $73.87 per barrel, up 9 cents, or 0.1 percent, from their last close. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were up 11 cents, or 0.2 percent, at $68.40 a barrel. Both Brent and WTI hit their highest levels since November 2014 earlier this week, at $74.75 and $69.56 per barrel respectively.
Oil prices have been pushed up by a gradually tightening market. Led by top exporter Saudi Arabia, the producer cartel of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has been withholding production since 2017 to draw down a global supply overhang that had depressed crude prices between 2014 and 2016.
The tighter oil market is also starting to feed into refined products, which use crude as their main feedstock to make fuels such as gasoline or diesel. This tightness is also a result of healthy oil demand.
“Global oil demand data so far in 2018 has come in line with our optimistic expectations, with 1Q18 likely to post the strongest year-on-year growth since 4Q10 at 2.55 million barrels per day,” U.S. bank Goldman Sachs said in a note published late on Thursday.
Beyond OPEC’s supply management, crude prices have also been supported by an expectation that the United States will re-introduce sanctions on OPEC-member Iran.
One factor weighing on price gains has been rising production, which has increased by a quarter since mid-2016 to 10.54 million barrels per day, making the United States the world’s second biggest producer of crude oil behind only Russia, which pumps almost 11 million bpd.