Investors were in a selling mood at the end of a mostly subdued week of trading, sending U.S. stocks lower for the third day in a row Thursday.
Energy stocks led the broad decline, which gathered momentum in the final hour of trading ahead of the long Easter holiday weekend. The slide marked the lowest close for the stock market since Feb. 13 and came on a day when several major banks reported their latest quarterly results, kicking off the company earnings season.
Traders also weighed the potential for rising geopolitical tensions following news that the U.S. attacked an Islamic State tunnel complex in eastern Afghanistan with the largest non-nuclear weapon ever used in combat by the U.S. military.
Bond yields continued to drop. Gold surged to its highest level since early November. The weakened versus the yen and euro.
“Investors have plenty of reasons to be cautious and have become more cautious in recent weeks,” said Erik Davidson, chief investment officer at Wells Fargo Private Bank. “The market had a great run and it just hasn’t been given a lot of reasons for much follow-through on that.”
The Standard & Poor’s 500 index slid 15.98 points, or 0.7 percent, to 2,328.95. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 138.61 points, or 0.7 percent, to 20,453.25. The Nasdaq composite index lost 31.01 points, or 0.5 percent, to 5,805.15.
Small-company stocks fell more than the rest of the market. The Russell 2000 index lost 13.96 points, or 1 percent, to 1,345.24. More stocks fell than rose on the New York Stock Exchange.
The decline deepened the market’s losses for the month.
Bond prices edged higher. The yield on the benchmark U.S. 10-year note fell to 2.23 percent from 2.24 percent late Wednesday.
Gold, often sought out by investors in times of global uncertainty, climbed $10.40 to $1,288.50 an ounce.
Oil prices inched higher as traders shrugged off a report by the International Energy Agency said that demand growth for oil will slow for a second consecutive year this year.
Benchmark U.S. crude rose 7 cents to close at $53.18 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, added 3 cents to close at $55.89 per barrel in London.
Even so, energy stocks fell sharply, led by Chesapeake Energy. The stock was the biggest decliner in the S&P 500, shedding 26 cents, or 4.2 percent, to $5.89.
After a week of mostly subdued trading without major new economic data or company news, investors got a look at the first batch of big bank earnings Thursday.
Several banks reported better-than-expected results thanks to improved revenue from trading and rising interest rates. That gave the stocks a boost early on, but their gains faded.
Citigroup slipped 47 cents to $58.04, while JPMorgan Chase shed $1, or 1.2 percent, to $84.40. PNC Financial Services slid 20 cents to $115.80.
“A lot of investors were looking through the earnings releases today and trying to get a sense of demand for loans, and I don’t think they’re liking what they’re seeing,” Davidson said.
Wells Fargo gave up 3.3 percent after Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway sold some of its stock in the lender to avoid being designated a bank holding company. Wells also reported flat quarterly earnings, reflecting continuing struggles to recover from its sales practice scandal. The stock lost $1.77 to $51.35.
Pier 1 Imports’ latest quarterly results failed to impress investors.
The company’s shares slumped 9.1 percent after the home decor retailer reported disappointing sales. The stock slid 66 cents to $6.59.
U.S. Steel fell 5.9 percent as investors weighed the impact of a wastewater spill at one of the company’s steel plants in northern Indiana. Federal officials were waiting for the results of tests aimed at determining whether a potentially carcinogenic chemical entered Lake Michigan during the wastewater spill on Tuesday. The company’s shares were off $1.84 to $29.42.
Major stock indexes overseas closed mostly lower.
In Europe, Germany’s DAX slid 0.4 percent, while France’s CAC-40 shed 0.6 percent. London’s FTSE-100 lost 0.3 percent. In Asia, Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 fell 0.7 percent and Sydney’s S&P-ASX 200 lost 0.7 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng slid 0.2 percent after a report showed China’s export growth accelerated in March, while import growth cooled. Seoul’s Kospi added 0.9 percent.
The dollar continued to weaken a day after President Donald Trump said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that the dollar was “getting too strong” and that he won’t declare China a currency manipulator.
The remarks helped push the yen to its highest level since mid-November, just after the presidential election. The dollar slid to 109.16 yen from 109.71 yen late Wednesday. The euro strengthened to $1.0612 from $1.0598.
In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline dipped 1 cent to $1.73 a gallon. Heating oil held steady at $1.65 a gallon. Natural gas rose 4 cents, or 1.3 percent, to $3.23 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Among metals, silver gained 21 cents to $18.51 an ounce. Copper added 3 cents to $2.57 a pound.
U.S. markets will be closed Friday for the Good Friday holiday.