Wall Street slides on gloomy economic data, bank earnings

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(Reuters) – The S&P 500 recoiled on Wednesday from a four-week high, as dire forecasts for the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression were strengthened by a crash in business activity and dismal first-quarter earnings reports.

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, New York, U.S., April 13, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

The S&P energy sector .SPNY slumped 7.3% and was on track for its worst day in nearly a month as oil prices sank after reports suggested persistent oversupply and collapsing global demand. [O/R]

The banking subsector .SPXBK fell 5.8%, as the biggest U.S. lenders set aside billions of dollars to prepare for an expected flood of loan defaults as the coronavirus pandemic all but halted business activity. The flight from risky assets also hit Treasury yields. [US/]

Bank of America (BAC.N) and Citigroup Inc (C.N) shed as much as 6.5% as they joined JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) and Wells Fargo & Co (WFC.N) in reporting a slump in first-quarter profits.

In the latest evidence of economic damage from the outbreak, U.S. retail sales plunged 8.7% in March, manufacturing output dropped by the most in over 74 years and a survey showed manufacturing activity in New York state plunged in April to its lowest in the series’ history.

“Investors need a strong stomach to stick with stocks through some bad earnings reports in the coming days, weeks and months,” said David Trainer, chief executive officer of investment research firm New Constructs in Nashville, Tennessee.

“Earnings and coronavirus are tightly intertwined and the more progress there is on coronavirus, the sooner economic activity resumes and earnings rebound.”

Analysts expect earnings for S&P 500 firms to slide 12.8% in the first quarter, while the International Monetary Fund has predicted the global economy would this year witness its sharpest slump since the 1930s.

The benchmark S&P 500 .SPX has climbed about 26% from its March trough, lifted by a raft of U.S. monetary and fiscal stimulus and on early signs that coronavirus cases were peaking in some hotspots, but the index is still down about 18% from its record high.

At 11:45 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI was down 667.62 points, or 2.79%, at 23,282.14, the S&P 500 .SPX was down 80.14 points, or 2.82%, at 2,765.92 and Nasdaq Composite .IXIC was down 167.40 points, or 1.97%, at 8,348.35.

The CBOE volatility index rose to 42.30 after closing Tuesday at its lowest level since March 5. The S&P tech sector .SPLRCT fell 2.5% and was the biggest drag on the benchmark index.

J.C. Penney Co Inc (JCP.N) slumped 28.1% as sources said the retailer was exploring filing for bankruptcy protection after the virus outbreak upended its turnaround plans.

The biggest U.S. health insurer UnitedHealth Group Inc (UNH.N) rose 2.1% as it maintained its 2020 profit outlook at a time when major companies have withdrawn forecasts due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers more than 10-to-1 on the NYSE and 5-to-1 on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded five new 52-week highs and one new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 13 new highs and 18 new lows.

Reporting by Medha Singh and Akanksha Rana in Bengaluru; Editing by Sagarika Jaisinghani and Shounak Dasgupta

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