U.S. stocks ended mixed and mostly lower Tuesday, led by a steep decline in drug company shares.
All major international markets also fell Tuesday as investors await the outcome of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s monthly meeting, which concludes Wednesday.
At the close on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average was up 22.4 points, about 0.1 percent, to 17,251.5; it fell more than 100 points at the opening bell. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was down 3.7 points, about 02 percent, at 2,015.9. The Nasdaq composite gave up 21.6 points, about 0.5 percent, to 4,728.7.
MAKING MOVES: Comments from beleaguered Valeant Pharmaceuticals raised investor concerns that it will become more difficult for drug companies to hike prices, and shares across the sector plunged. Materials companies also fell, led by a 7 percent decline for miner Freeport McMoRan. However, an encouraging iPhone sales forecast sent Apple shares higher, which helped push the Dow Jones industrial average to a small gain.
CRUDE ENERGY: About the same time, benchmark U.S. crude oil shed 74 cents, about 1.9 percent, to $36.44 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $1.32 on Monday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, lost 63 cents, about 1.6 percent, to $38.90 per barrel in London.
NEW YORK MANUFACTURING: Factory activity in New York State expanded in March for the first time since last summer, and measures of new orders and shipments also posted robust gains, the New York Federal Reserve said Tuesday in its Empire State manufacturing index. The index rose to 0.6 in March from minus 16.6 the previous month. It was the first positive reading since July. Any reading above zero indicates growth. The results suggest that manufacturing may finally be showing signs of life.
RETAIL SALES: U.S. retail sales slipped 0.1 percent in February, the U.S. Commerce Department said Tuesday. Excluding the volatile gas and auto categories, sales rose 0.3 percent. Overall sales were revised sharply lower in January, from a 0.2 percent gain to a drop of 0.4 percent. The figures suggest that consumers remain cautious about spending despite steady hiring.
PRODUCER PRICES: U.S. producer prices edged down in February, the fifth drop in the past seven months, underscoring that inflation remains a no-show. The U.S. Labor Department said Tuesday that its Producer Price Index, which measures price pressures before they reach the consumer, declined 0.2 percent in February after a 0.1 percent increase in January. Core inflation, which excludes energy and food, was unchanged in February after a 0.4 percent jump in January. Over the past 12 months, producer prices overall are flat and core prices are up 1.2 percent.
BUILDER SENTIMENT: U.S. homebuilders’ expectations for sales over the next six months have dimmed just as the spring home-selling season gets under way, according to the National Association of Home Builders and Wells Fargo builder sentiment index released Tuesday. The index held steady at 58 this month. Readings above 50 indicate more builders view sales conditions as good, rather than poor. The index had been in the low 60s for eight months until February.