All three major indexes closed lower Monday, the first day of trading in December. Investors sold shares on signs that American shoppers — that seemingly inexhaustible fuel of global economic growth — may hold tight to their cash this year-end shoping season.
Shoppers turned out in record numbers over the four-day legal holiday weekend, but plunked down less cash than they did last year. It was the first decline in the Thanksgiving legal holiday weekend spending since a retail trade group began tracking it in 2006.
Investors reacted by selling all types of retailer stocks, from department stores to specialty chains. J.C. Penney, Macy’s and Target fell about 2 percent each. Urban Outfitters dropped nearly 4 percent.
“This [winter shopping] season is not going to be a gangbuster,” said Lindsey Piegza, chief economist of Sterne Agee. “Retailers are bracing for declining activity from now to the beginning of the year.”
One big exception to the retailer doldrums was Ebay, which rose 1.6 percent thanks to signs of strong sales from its online auctions.
The Dow Jones industrial average has surged 22 percent this year and, if history holds, will add to that gain this month. The Dow has risen in December in three out of every four years going back to 1950, according to the Stock Trader’s Almanac. The average gain: 1.7 percent.
On Monday, the Dow fell 77.64 points, or 0.5 percent, to 16,008.77. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index dropped 4.91 points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,800.90. The Nasdaq composite fell 14.63 points, or 0.4 percent, to 4,045.26.
The government reported that developers boosted construction spending in October at the fastest pace in more than four years. A separate survey showed that manufacturing activity rose at its fastest pace in 2 1/2 years.
Joseph S. Tanious, global market strategist at JPMorgan, said he was encouraged by the reports, and saw little reason to sell. But he said many people have made so much money in the market already that they want to play it safe and lock in gains.
“Investors are looking for reasons to sell,” Tanious said. “But I think the markets will move higher between here and the year-end.”
Stocks have soared as the economy maintains a slow but steady recovery and companies continue to increase earnings. Demand for stocks also has been bolstered by Federal Reserve purchases of $85 billion of bonds each month. The goal is to hold down interest rates, make bonds less attractive than stocks, and stimulate the economy.
Stock investors are waiting for a government report on jobs Friday for clues about whether the stimulus policy is working and when the Fed will ease off its bond purchases. Investors have sold on days when they feared a Fed pullback was imminent.
In government bond trading, the yield on the 10-year note climbed to 2.80 percent, from 2.75 percent. The yield was as low as 1.63 percent in early May.
Phone companies led the broader market lower Monday. Investors typically buy those stocks because they pay big dividends, providing income. When interest rates climb investors sell them because the income is less attractive compared with higher bond yields.
Other stocks making big moves:
- 3M plunged $5.83, or 4.4 percent, to $127.68 after Morgan Stanley downgraded the stock. It was the biggest loser in the Dow and the S&P 500.
- Forest Laboratories surged $5.01 to $56.32, or 10 percent, the biggest gain in the S&P 500. The drugmaker expects to cut jobs as part of a plan to trim $500 million in costs, and spend at least $400 million buying back its stock.
- Dow Chemical rose 92 cents, or 2.4 percent, to $39.98. The company plans to either sell or spin off about 40 manufacturing plants as it moves away from making cyclical commodities, products whose demand is closely tied to the ebbs and flows of the economy.