U.S. stocks drift lower after weak reports on autos, China

U.S. stocks edged lower in afternoon trading Wednesday as investors sized up fresh data on the U.S. manufacturing, housing and automobile industries. Telecommunications companies were among the biggest decliners. Automakers GM and Ford Motors also declined after reporting a drop in sales for May.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average fell 32 points, or 0.2 percent, to 17,754 as of 2:05 p.m. Eastern time. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index shed two points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,094. The Nasdaq composite index slipped two points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,945.

THE QUOTE: Investors are looking for clues in the latest economic data out of the U.S. and China to gauge the likelihood that the Federal Reserve will raise its key interest rate at the central bank’s next meeting of policymakers later this month.

“The market is in a holding pattern,” said Quincy Krosby, market strategist at Prudential Financial. “Everything now is being viewed via the eye of the Fed in order to ascertain whether and if we get a rate hike this summer.”

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SWEATIN’ IT: Under Armour slumped 4.5 percent after the sports apparel maker slashed its full-year revenue guidance, saying that the closure of Sports Authority stores will hurt its sales. A bankruptcy court recently decided to approve the liquidation of privately held Sports Authority, which sold Under Armour goods, rather than a restructuring or sale. Under Armour shed $1.71 to $36.02.

PUMPING THE BRAKES: General Motors and Ford Motor were down after the automakers reported lower sales for May, usually one of the strongest months of the year for the U.S. auto industry. GM lost 91 cents, or 2.9 percent, to $30.37, while Ford slid 43 cents, or 3.2 percent, to $13.07. Auto dealership chain CarMax also fell, sliding $1.93, or 3.6 percent, to $51.72.

DRILLED: Several oil and gas drilling companies fell. Helmerich & Payne lost $1.88, or 3.1 percent, to $59.27, while National Oilwell Varco shed $1.10, or 3.3 percent, to $31.85.

RETAIL THERAPY: Michael Kors jumped 6.6 percent after the retailer reported that strong online sales and new store locations helped give a big boost to its fiscal fourth-quarter revenue, exceeding Wall Street’s expectations. The stock rose $2.82 to $45.54.

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APPETIZING RESULTS: Cracker Barrel vaulted 8.8 percent after the restaurant chain reported strong earnings growth for its fiscal third quarter. The stock added $13.28 to $164.76.

MIXED DATA: The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing managers, said that U.S. factories expanded for the third straight month in May, helped by a weaker U.S. dollar. Separately, the Commerce Department said U.S. construction spending fell in April by the biggest amount in five years, dragged down by declines in housing, commercial construction and spending on government projects. The reports came a day after the latest measure of U.S. consumer confidence dropped for a second month.

CHINA SNAPSHOT: Two surveys showed persisting weakness in China’s factories last month, another sign of trouble for the world’s second-largest economy. An official index by the Chinese Federation of Logistics & Purchasing, based on a survey of factory purchasing managers, came in at 50.1 in May. Numbers above 50 indicate expansion and those below 50 indicate contraction. The private Caixin/Markit survey was more pessimistic. That survey fell to 49.2 last month from 49.4 in April.

MARKETS OVERSEAS: In Europe, Germany’s DAX fell 0.6 percent, while France’s CAC 40 slid 0.7 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 lost 0.6 percent. In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 finished 1.6 percent lower, while South Korea’s Kospi slipped less than 0.1 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index fell 0.3 percent. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 slumped 1 percent.

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ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude oil slipped 21 cents to $48.89 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, which is used to price international oils, slid 20 cents to $49.69 a barrel in London.

BONDS AND CURRENCIES: Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 1.84 percent from 1.85 late Tuesday. In currency markets, the dollar weakened to 109.59 yen from 110.59 yen in Tuesday’s trading. The euro rose to $1.1179 from $1.1126.