Wall St. slides on bleak data, capping a banner month

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NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. stocks fell on Thursday as grim economic data and mixed earnings prompted investors to take some profits at the close of Wall Street’s best month in decades.

FILE PHOTO: The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) is seen in the financial district of lower Manhattan during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New York City, U.S., April 26, 2020. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

Although a broad sell-off in the session pushed all three major U.S. stock averages into the red, April nonetheless looks to have been a banner month for U.S. equities.

The S&P 500 and the Dow were set for their largest monthly percentage gains since January 1987, with the Nasdaq on course for its best month since April 2001.

The three indexes are well within 20% of record highs reached in February, having quickly rebounded since shutdown efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic brought the economy to a grinding halt.

The five-week tally of unemployment claims topped 30 million and consumer spending has plummeted, according to the latest round of dismal indicators providing another snapshot of the crushing economic effects of the widespread shutdown.

“There was horrific data, and several numbers that were abysmal,” said Peter Tuz, president of Chase Investment Counsel in Charlottesville, Virginia. “On the other hand, we’ve had a great month in April and people are taking some money off the table.”

Early in the session, the Federal Reserved announced that it would broaden its “Main Street Lending Program” by lowering the minimum loan size and expanding eligibility, a move that briefly helped stocks pare their losses.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI fell 339.44 points, or 1.38%, to 24,294.42, the S&P 500 .SPX lost 36.3 points, or 1.23%, to 2,903.21 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 60.40 points, or 0.68%, to 8,854.31.

All 11 major sectors in the S&P 500 were in negative territory, with energy companies .SPNY suffering the largest percentage loss.

Earnings season continues apace, with 236 of the companies in the S&P 500 having reported quarterly results. Of those, two-thirds have surprised consensus estimates to the upside, according to Refinitiv data.

But there have been 90 negative pre-announcements in the first quarter, compared with 40 positive, and analysts see aggregate S&P earnings dropping by a year-on-year rate of 14.4% in the first three months of 2020, per Refinitiv.

“On most earnings calls (companies are) saying this quarter is going to be terrible and they have absolutely no idea what the rest of the year is going to look like,” Tuz added. “There are too many uncertainties.”

Market leaders Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and Amazon.com (AMZN.O) are due to post results after the closing bell.

Facebook Inc (FB.O) climbed 4.8% after the social media company reported better-than-expected quarterly revenue.

McDonald’s Corp (MCD.N) was off 1.2% after showing a 16.7% quarterly profit slide.

American Airlines (AAL.O) posted its first quarterly loss since emerging from bankruptcy in 2013, sending its shares down 5.7%.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 3.19-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 3.23-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 2 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 19 new highs and 2 new lows.

Reporting by Stephen Culp; Editing by Dan Grebler

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