U.S. stocks indexes veer lower; crude oil slumps again

U.S. stocks were sharply lower in afternoon trading Wednesday as the price of crude oil slumped again, surrendering gains from earlier in the day. Investors were also weighing the latest company earnings and economic news from of China. Consumer discretionary stocks were among the biggest decliners.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average fell 263 points, or 1.6 percent, to 16,252 as of 2:25 p.m. Eastern Time. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index lost 35 points, or 1.8 percent, to 1,903. The Nasdaq composite dropped 124 points, or 2.7 percent, to 4,561.

THE QUOTE: “We’re still waiting to see how earnings come out, and whether oil prices move back down again or stabilize here,” said Ed Keon, managing director and portfolio manager for QMA.

ENERGY: The price of U.S. crude oil fell 7 cents to $30.37 a barrel in New York. It had been up more than 3 percent in the first hour of trading, but stumbled on a report showing that demand for fuels slipped last week. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, fell 57 cents, or 1.8 percent, to $30.38 a barrel in London.

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TIED TO OIL: Several oil and gas companies fell sharply as crude prices wavered. Williams Cos. tumbled $2.58, or 15.6 percent to $13.95. Consol Energy slid 82 cents, or 12.2 percent, to $5.88. Valero Energy shed $6.39, or 9 percent, to $64.80.

DISAPPOINTING OUTLOOKS: Investors sold off shares in Ford Motor and auto parts supplier BorgWarner after both companies issued earnings outlooks that fell short of Wall Street’s expectations. Ford fell 69 cents, or 5.3 percent, to $12.17. BorgWarner lost $3.89, or 10.4 percent, to $33.51.

EARNINGS UNDERWHELM: Railroad operator CSX and supermarket chain SuperValu were down after the companies reported their latest quarterly results. CSX slid $1.60, or 6.8 percent, to $22.10. SuperValu fell 68 cents, or 11.3 percent, to $5.33.

DEAL PLANS: MetLife climbed 3.3 percent after the company said it plans to sell or spin off a large part of its life insurance business. The stock gained $1.38 to $43.37.

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RESILIENCE: Stock markets in the U.S. and Europe are showing some resilience in the face of the volatility in China. Worries over the future of the world’s second-largest economy have triggered big falls in stock markets around the world at the start of 2016.

EYES ON CHINA: China’s exports rose 2.3 percent in December from a year earlier in yuan terms, reversing a 3.7 percent drop in November. Exports fell in dollar terms but the decrease was smaller than November’s. The data suggest a weakening in the yuan may be helping boost demand for Chinese products, providing welcome support for the slowing economy.

OVERSEAS: In Europe, Germany’s DAX fell 0.2 percent while France’s CAC 40 rose 0.3 percent. The FTSE 100 of leading British shares gained 0.5 percent. In Asia, stocks rallied despite a 2.4 percent drop in the Shanghai Composite. Japan’s Nikkei 225 stock index jumped 2.9 percent while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng gained 1.1 percent. South Korea’s Kospi and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 added 1.3 percent. Shares in New Zealand and Southeast Asia were mostly higher.

BONDS AND CURRENCIES: The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.06 percent from 2.11 percent late Tuesday. Trading in foreign exchange markets was subdued. The euro was little changed at $1.0857 and the dollar rose to 117.89 yen from 117.58 yen.

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METALS: Precious and industrial metals futures closed mostly higher. Gold rose $1.90 to $1,087.10 an ounce, silver rose 41 cents to $14.16 an ounce and copper was little changed at $1.96 a pound.