Stock Indexes Sink on Plunging Oil Prices and Energy Companies

stocks, markets, Wall Street, Energy, Oil
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

U.S. stocks are declining Thursday as oil prices continue to plunge and energy companies take sharp losses. Health insurers are a bit higher and hospitals are lower as Congress prepares to vote on a bill intended to roll back much of former President Barack Obama’s health care law.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor’s 500 index lost 5 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,382 as of 12:35 p.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 87 points, or 0.4 percent, to 20,870. The Nasdaq composite gave up 15 points, or 0.2 percent, to 6,057. The Russell 2000 index of small-company stocks dipped 10 points, or 0.7 percent, to 1,381. On the New York Stock Exchange, three out of every four stocks fell.

ENERGY: U.S. benchmark crude futures shed another $1.94, or 4.1 percent, to $45.88 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the standard for international oils, fell $1.97, or 3.9 percent, to $48.82 a barrel in London. Oil was already trading at its lowest price since November, and energy companies declined along with it. Exxon Mobil skidded $1.05, or 1.3 percent, to $81.65; and Marathon Oil lost 75 cents, or 5.1 percent, to $14.10.

HEALTH VOTE: House Republicans planned a vote on a revised bill rolling back much of the Affordable Care Act of 2010. The new legislation would rework subsidies for private insurance, limit federal spending on Medicaid for low-income people and cut taxes on upper-income individuals used to finance Obama’s overhaul. The House vote is expected to be close, and it’s not clear if the bill can pass the Senate, or how Senators might change it if it does.

Health insurers and drugmakers mostly traded higher while hospitals fell. Animal health products maker Zoetis and prescription drug distributor AmerisourceBergen rose after they delivered their first-quarter reports.

NO LIKES: Facebook’s first-quarter profit and sales were stronger than expected, but the social network’s stock dipped $1.36 to $150.44. Facebook’s stock is up 30 percent this year and is trading at all-time highs.

HOUSEHOLD GOODS: Church & Dwight, which makes products such as Arm & Hammer baking soda and OxiClean cleaning products, raised its profit estimate after its first-quarter results were better than analysts expected. Its stock rose $1.98, or 4.1 percent, to $50.73. Frosted Flakes and Pop Tarts maker Kellogg posted a larger profit than excepted; and its stock picked up 82 cents, or 1.2 percent, to $69.76, even though the company’s sales weren’t as high as investors had hoped.

FED IN FOCUS: On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve left interest rates unchanged, as investors expected. However, the Fed said it expects the economy to recover from its sluggish growth in the first quarter, and that’s a hint the central bank expects to raise rates again soon. That’s aiding bond yields and the dollar.

Bond prices dropped. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.36 percent from 2.32 percent.

BANKING ON IT: Tennessee-based First Horizon agreed to buy North Carolina’s Capital Bank Financial in a deal the companies valued at $2.2 billion. They said it will make one of the largest regional banks in the Southeastern U.S. However, investors were far from excited, and both stocks slumped. Capital Bank fell $3, or 7.1 percent, to $39.05; and First Horizon National declined 67 cents, or 3.6 percent, to $18.15.

HANGING UP: Telecommunications companies slumped after Level 3 Communications and CenturyLink both disappointed Wall Street with their first-quarter results. Level 3 dropped $3.33, or 5.5 percent, to $57.09; and CenturyLink sank $2.21, or 8.7 percent, to $23.20.

METALS PRICES: Precious metals prices dropped further. Gold sank $16.80, or 1.3 percent, to $1,231.70 an ounce. Silver fell 18 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $16.37 an ounce. Copper lost 3 cents, or 1.3 percent, to $2.51 a pound.

FASTER PACE: Fitness tracking device maker Fitbit jumped 70 cents, or 12.3 percent, to $6.38 after its first-quarter results were stronger than analysts expected.

CURRENCIES: The dollar turned lower and slipped to 112.48 yen from 112.64 yen. The euro rose to $1.0975 from $1.0906.

OVERSEAS: The CAC 40 in France rose 1.4 percent following a debate between the French presidential candidates. Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen will face off in the final round of voting Sunday, and Macron maintains a large lead in the polls. He is perceived to be more business-friendly and is an advocate of France’s continued use of the euro and membership of the European Union. That helped send the euro higher on Thursday.

Germany’s DAX rose 1 percent, and the FTSE 100 index in Britain added 0.2 percent.

The South Korean Kospi added 1 percent and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng edged 0.1 percent lower. Japan’s market remained closed for a holiday.

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