U.S. Stocks Plunge As Oil Rout Continues

NEW YORK (AP) -

A rout in oil prices shook financial markets Friday, pushing stocks to their worst weekly loss in two and a half years.

The stock market fell sharply as investors worried that slumping oil demand is signaling that growth outside of the U.S. is weaker than earlier thought. And while consumers and airlines will benefit from lower fuel prices, energy companies will see their earnings suffer. Some may even go out of business.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 33 points, or 1.6 percent, to 2,002.33. The index dropped 3.5 percent over the week, its biggest decline since May 2012. U.S. benchmark oil slipped $2.14 Friday, or 3.6 percent, to $57.81 a barrel. Energy stocks in the S&P 500 index fell 2.1 percent, taking their loss for the year to 16.5 percent.

The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 315.51 points, or 1.8 percent, to 17,280.83. The Nasdaq composite dropped 54.57 points, or 1.2 percent, to 4,653.60.

Just seven days earlier, the market hit record levels on the back of a strong employment report. After flirting with a close above 18,000 a week ago, the Dow has now shed more than 700 points, partly because of big losses for Exxon Mobil and Chevron.

A rapid decline in crude hit stocks all week. Oil fell again Friday after the International Energy Agency said global demand grew less than previously forecast next year.

The news drove crude down for the fourth day in five, leaving the price 12 percent lower for the week and well below $60 per barrel. Oil has now fallen 47 percent since reaching a peak of $107 in June this year.

The last time oil prices were this low was when the U.S. economy was emerging from the Great Recession.

Stocks were also hurt after a report showed that growth in factory output in China, the world’s second-largest economy, declined last month.

On Friday, some companies bucked the downward trend.

Adobe reported fourth-quarter results late Thursday that beat Wall Street expectations. Adobe also said it will pay $800 million to buy the stock image and video company Fotolia. The stock jumped $6.28, or 9 percent, to $76.02.

Stock investors may face more volatility next week when the Federal Reserve starts a two-day meeting. Many expect that policymakers will signal that they are moving closer to raising interest rates for the first time in more than eight years.

A bull run for stocks that has lasted for nearly six years has come against a backdrop of economic stimulus from the Fed. Government bond prices rose. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which falls when prices rise, dropped to 2.08 percent from 2.17 percent Thursday.

The dollar fell. The U.S. currency dropped 0.2 percent to 118.74 yen. The euro rose 0.5 percent against the dollar to $1.24593.

In metals trading, silver fell six cents, or 0.3 percent, to $17.06 an ounce. Gold dropped $3.10, or 0.3 percent, to $1,222.50 an ounce. Copper rose a penny, or 0.4 percent, to $2.93 a pound.

In other energy trading, Brent crude, the international benchmark, lost $1.83, or 2.9 percent, to $61.85 a barrel in London.

On the NYMEX:

• Wholesale gasoline fell 2.7 cents to close at $1.597 a gallon.

• Heating oil fell 4.5 cents to close at $2.016 a gallon.

• Natural gas rose 16.1 cents to close at $3.795 per 1,000 cubic feet.