Wall St. sinks on trade jitters ahead of Powell speech

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Wall Street lost ground on Tuesday as simmering geopolitical and trade concerns, combined with disappointing economic data, kept buyers at bay and investors looked to remarks from U.S. Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell expected later in the session.

Technology companies led all three major U.S. stock indexes into the red ahead Powell’s speech and the question-and-answer session to follow, which will be scrutinized by market participants for clues as to when and by how much the central bank will cut key interest rates.

“It’s not an all-red day but it’s pretty much a risk-off day with money moving into defensive names,” said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment strategist at Inverness Counsel in New York.

Despite Tuesday’s sell-off, June is shaping up to be a good month for U.S. equities. The benchmark S&P 500 is still hovering within a percent of its all-time high reached last Thursday.

Still, anxieties stemming from the ongoing U.S.-China trade war found no relief in a White House official’s remarks that President Trump is “comfortable with any outcome” arising from an expected meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Group of 20 summit convening in Japan on Friday.

“The upcoming meeting between Xi and Trump is being anxiously anticipated,” Ghriskey added. “Expectations for that meeting are low, even pessimistic.”

On the economic front, sales of newly constructed homes and consumer confidence numbers both came in well below economist expectations, according to separate reports from the U.S. Commerce Department and the Conference Board.

Increasing signs of economic softness, especially related to the trade disputes between the United States and its major trading partners, helped prompt the Federal Reserve last week to signal interest rate cuts beginning as early as July.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 39.64 points, or 0.15%, to 26,687.9, the S&P 500 lost 9.33 points, or 0.32%, to 2,936.02 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 48.90 points, or 0.61%, to 7,956.80.

Of the 11 major indexes in the S&P 500, seven were in negative territory, with communications services seeing the biggest percentage drop.

Rate-sensitive bank stocks were down 0.3%, as U.S. benchmark yields fell below the closely watched 2% level.

The healthcare sector edged up 0.2%, boosted by news of a multi-billion dollar deal.

AbbVie Inc said it would buy Allergan Plc for about $63 billion, sending the Botox-maker’s shares up by 26.7%. AbbVie’s stock dropped 15.2% on the news.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.11-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.15-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 28 new 52-week highs and 5 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 19 new highs and 64 new lows.