A Wall Street sign is seen on the side of...

A Wall Street sign is seen on the side of a building near the New York Stock Exchange on March 4, 2013. Credit: AP / Mark Lennihan

U.S. stocks were down sharply in late-afternoon trading Friday, pulling the Dow Jones industrial average down more than 300 points and placing the market on course for its biggest loss since June. Telecom, utilities and materials companies led the broad slide. Energy stocks slumped as crude oil prices fell.

ON WALL STREET: In late afternoon, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 345.5 points, about 1.9 percent, at 18,135.9. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 47.3 points, about 2.2 percent, to 2,134. The Nasdaq composite gave up 118.6 points, about 2 percent, to 5,140.6.

OIL PRICES: As the markets opened, the price of U.S. benchmark crude was down $1.81 at $46.45 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. In London, the price of Brent crude, used to price international oils, was down $1.94 at $48.05 a barrel.

RATE HIKE SPECULATION: In a speech early Friday, Fed Bank of Boston president Eric Rosengren suggested a case could be made for the central bank to raise its key interest rate sooner rather than later. The Fed is scheduled to hold a policy meeting later this month. In recent weeks, few Fed observers have expected the Fed to lift rates this month, but a December hike is looking more likely, said JJ Kinahan, chief strategist at TD Ameritrade. “We have a good probability that we’re getting it by the end of the year,” Kinahan said.

DRILLED: Several oil and gas production and drilling companies were down, giving back some of their gains from a rally Thursday. Diamond Offshore Drilling led the decliners in the S&P 500, losing $1.64, or 9.4 percent, to $15.76. Transocean shed 57 cents, or 5.4 percent, to $9.90, while Marathon Oil slid 86 cents, or 5.2 percent, to $15.88.

BEATEN UP: High-dividend stocks like utilities and phone companies slumped amid growing speculation of a Fed interest rate hike, which helped drive bond yields higher. Those stocks have been in favor among investors seeking income while interest rates and bond yields remained ultralow. AT&T was down 99 cents, or 2.4 percent, to $40.21, while Verizon slid $1.24, or 2.3 percent, to $52.37.

NEVER MIND: Williams Cos. fell 3.2 percent on news that Enterprise Products Partners has told the natural gas company it is no longer interested in a possible merger. Williams slid $1 to $30.15. Enterprise was down 19 cents, or less than 1 percent, at $27.06.

HOUSE OF PAIN: Hovnanian Enterprises tumbled 12.1 percent after the home builder disclosed weak third-quarter results and cut its forecast for the year. The stock fell 24 cents to $1.74.

COSTLY DEFECT: General Motors fell 2.7 percent after the automaker said it is recalling about 4 million vehicles worldwide to fix an air bag software defect that has been linked to one death. The stock shed 87 cents to $30.85.

GOOD QUARTERS: Furniture and housewares retailer Restoration Hardware and fiber optic components supplier Finisar were up sharply on strong quarterly results. Restoration Hardware gained $2.51, or 7.1 percent, to $37.80. Finisar added $3.45, or 14.8 percent, to $26.68.

NORTH KOREA ANGST: North Korea conducted a “higher level” nuclear test explosion on Friday. The nation boasted that it can now build an array of stronger, smaller and lighter nuclear weapons. It was the North’s fifth atomic test and the second in eight months. South Korea’s president called the detonation, which Seoul estimated was the North’s biggest-ever in explosive yield, an act of “fanatic recklessness.” Japan called North Korea an “outlaw nation.”

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