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VOL. 42 | NO. 50 | Friday, December 14, 2018

US stocks dip again following several days of steep losses

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NEW YORK (AP) — Stock prices are moving slightly lower on Wall Street Thursday morning, a day after another big plunge rocked markets around the world.

The benchmark S&P 500 index has slumped more than 5 percent in the last six days and is now 15 percent below the peak it reached in late September. After steady gains through the spring and summer, stocks have slumped in the fall as investors worry that global economic growth is cooling off and that the U.S. could slip into a recession in the next few years.

Markets are also concerned about twin threats that could make the situation even worse: the ongoing trade dispute between the U.S. and China, which has lasted most of this year and shows few signs of easing, and rising interest rates, which act as a brake on economic growth by making it more expensive for businesses and individuals to borrow money.

On Wednesday, stocks gave up an early gain and ended up with big losses after the Federal Reserve raised interest rates for the fourth time this year and signaled it was likely to continue raising rates next year, although at a slower rate than it previously forecast.

Investors are responding to a weakening outlook for the U.S. economy by selling stocks and buying ultra-safe U.S. government bonds. The bond-buying has the effect of sending bond yields lower, which has the positive effect of lowering interest rates on mortgages and other kinds of long-term loans.

At the same time, the lower bond yields can send a negative signal on the economy. The bond market has correctly predicted previous U.S. recessions by sending yields on long-term bonds sharply lower.

Stocks took sharp losses right after trading started on Thursday, but settled down soon thereafter. In the first hour of trading, the S&P 500 index was down 9 points, or 0.4 percent, to 2,498.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 147 points, or 0.6 percent, to 23,172. The Nasdaq composite fell 18 points, or 0.2 percent, to 6,620.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies slid 5 points, or 0.4 percent, to 1,344.

Smaller company stocks have been crushed during the recent market slump because slower growth in the U.S. will have an outsize effect on their profits. Relative to their size, they also tend to carry more debt than larger companies, which could be a problem in a slower economy with higher interest rates.

The Russell 2000 is now down 23 percent from the peak it reached in late August and it's down 12 percent for the year to date, twice the loss of the S&P 500 index, which tracks large companies.

Oil prices continued to retreat. They've dropped about 40 percent since early October as the slowing global economy and rising production have knocked prices down.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell 2.9 percent to $46.77 a barrel in New York while Brent crude, used to price international oils, dipped 2.6 percent to $55.78 a barrel in London.

Bond prices were mixed. The yield on the two-year Treasury note rose to 2.66 percent from 2.65 percent, but the yield on the 10-year note fell to 2.76 percent from 2.77 percent.

The gap between those two yields has been shrinking this year. When the 10-year yield falls below the two-year yield, investors call it an "inverted yield curve." That is often interpreted as a sign a recession is coming, although it's not a perfect signal, and when recessions do follow inversions in the yield curve, it can take a year or more.

In France, the CAC 40 lost 1.6 percent and Germany's DAX fell 1.5 percent. The British FTSE 100 slipped 0.5 percent. Indexes in Italy, Portugal and Spain took bigger losses.

Tokyo's Nikkei 225 lost 2.8 percent and Hong Kong's Hang Seng gave up 1 percent. Seoul's Kospi shed 0.9 percent.

Health care and household goods companies were taking some of the largest losses after weak results from companies including Walgreens and Conagra. Both of those companies reported disappointing sales, and Conagra sank 9.5 percent to $26.33 while Walgreens Boots Alliance lost 2.2 percent to $71.69.

The dollar fell to 111.64 yen from 112.36 yen. The euro rose to $1.1455 from $1.1368. The British pound rose to $1.2654 from $1.2621.

Technology companies, which have suffered severe losses since early October, did a bit better than the rest of the market Thursday. Apple added 0.7 percent to $162.06 and Intel gained 1.3 percent to $46.18.

Canadian marijuana grower Tilray jumped 9.5 percent to $77.75 after it announced a joint venture with AB InBev's Labatt Breweries brand. The companies are planning to develop non-alcoholic drinks that contain two compounds found in marijuana, THC and CBD. Both will invest $50 million in the joint venture.

On Tuesday Tilray stock jumped 16 percent after it announced a medical marijuana products partnership with drugmaker Sandoz. The stock has been extremely volatile this year but has more than quadrupled in value since it went public in July.

___

AP Markets Writer Marley Jay can be reached at http://twitter.com/MarleyJayAP

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