Wall St hits 2-1/2 month low on economic worry

By Chuck Mikolajczak

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The S&P 500 extended its slide to a fourth day Monday, hitting its lowest level since March 18, as a spate of recent weak U.S. data lent support to a bearish outlook for the economy.

Sectors most closely associated with economic fortunes took the biggest beating, with shares of Bank of America Corp off 4 percent to $10.83, the stock’s lowest close since May 2009.

As stocks have continued to fall, buying support has dried up, sending the S&P 500 through a series of technical support levels.

“The concern there deals with the weakening job market, capital requirements, quality of assets — particularly with the double-dip in housing and flattening yield curve. All those things are working against financials and set a weaker tone for the market as a whole,” said Bucky Hellwig, senior vice president at BB&T Wealth Management in Birmingham, Alabama.

Energy shares were also among the hardest-hit sectors, with the PHLX oil service sector index off 3.2 percent. Chevron Corp dropped 1.3 percent to $9.68 as the biggest drag on the Dow.

Oil fell in choppy trading on increased expectations OPEC will boost production targets this week as concerns about high prices curbing oil demand lingered. [O/R]

“There has been concern that the driving season has peaked already as a result of the slowing economy, and that puts pressure on the refined products and concurrently on the crude products,” said Hellwig.

U.S. stocks have been battered over the past five weeks on a number of disappointing reports, culminating in Friday’s U.S. employment report, which showed employers added a meager 54,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate rose to 9.1 percent.

With the second-quarter earnings season more than a month away, the market focused on the uncertain economic outlook.

The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 61.15 points, or 0.50 percent, to 12,090.11. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index fell 13.99 points, or 1.08 percent, to 1,286.17. The Nasdaq Composite Index lost 30.22 points, or 1.11 percent, to 2,702.56.

In a sign a slowing economy could hurt earnings, JP Morgan cut its rating on home improvement chain Lowes Cos Inc, citing softening home prices and stagnant job growth. The shares fell 2.3 percent to $22.87.

Apple Inc dipped 1.6 percent to $338.04 after Chief Executive Steve Jobs appeared at the unveiling of a music-streaming service the company hopes will power its next stage of growth. .

An exchange-traded fund that tracks Peruvian stocks tumbled about twice its daily average volume after left-wing former army commander Ollanta Humala won the presidential election.

The iShares MSCI All Peru Capped Index Fund fell about 13.8 percent to $37.53, while U.S.-traded shares of miner Compania de Minas Buenaventura dropped 15 percent to $35.75.

Volume was light with about 6.8 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, NYSE Amex and Nasdaq, below the daily average of 7.61 billion.

Declining stocks outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 2,394 to 618, while on the Nasdaq, decliners beat advancers 2,024 to 588. (Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Kenneth Barry)