Stocks, Commodities Drop on Fed Minutes, Spanish Auction

Stocks and commodities slid for a second day as weaker demand at a Spanish debt auction and the U.S. Federal Reserve’s reluctance to add more monetary stimulus fueled concern the global economic recovery will slow. The euro fell and Spanish, Italian and Portuguese bond yields surged.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index lost 1 percent as of 4 p.m. in New York, its second-worst drop of the year, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average slid 124.8 points to 13,074.75. The Stoxx Europe 600 Index tumbled 2.1 percent. The euro depreciated against 12 of 16 major peers, while 10-year Treasury yields fell seven basis points to 2.23 percent. Spanish 10-year yields surged 24 basis points to 5.69 percent. Silver and gold plunged more than 3 percent and oil extended losses after U.S. supplies grew by the most since 2008.

The S&P 500 has tumbled 1.4 percent from an almost four-year high of 1,419.04 on April 2 following a 12 percent rally in the first three months of the year, the best first-quarter gain in 14 years. The Fed will refrain from increasing monetary accommodation unless the economic expansion falters or prices rise at a rate slower than its 2 percent target, minutes of a March 13 policy meeting released yesterday showed.

“I can’t remember a time where knowing where you are in the trading cycle is as almost important as the news that’s coming,” Wayne Wilbanks, chief investment officer at Wilbanks, Smith & Thomas Asset Management LLC in Norfolk, Virginia, which oversees about $2 billion, said in a telephone interview. “When you are at the top of a trading range between 1,100 and 1,400, it will take very little bad news -- and maybe some news about quantitative easing, which is not bad news -- for the market to go down.”

Economic Data

U.S. stocks retreated even after an ADP Employer Services report showed companies expanded payrolls by 209,000 following a revised 230,000 gain in February. The median estimate in the Bloomberg News survey called for a 206,000 increase. Economists project a government report in two days will show private employers added 215,000 jobs and total payrolls, including government positions, increased by 205,000.

Service industries in the U.S. expanded less than forecast in March as orders grew at the slowest pace in three months. The Institute for Supply Management’s non-manufacturing index dropped to 56 from a one-year high of 57.3 in February. Readings above 50 signal expansion, and economists surveyed by Bloomberg News projected 56.8 for the gauge, according to the median estimate.

SanDisk Tumbles

Losses in U.S. stocks today were led by financial, technology and commodity companies, with gauges of each group dropping at least 1.2 percent as nine of the 10 main industry groups in the S&P 500 retreated. Bank of America Corp., Alcoa Inc. and Microsoft Corp. lost more than 2 percent for the biggest declines in the Dow.

SanDisk Corp. slid 11 percent, the most since January, after the biggest maker of flash-memory cards cut its forecast for first-quarter sales and profitability, citing weaker-than-expected pricing and demand for components that store data in mobile phones.

General Electric Co. fell 1.1 percent after its debt rating was cut by Moody’s Investors Service because of “heightened risk” from its finance unit, whose own grade was cut below the parent company’s for the first time in two decades.

U.S. equities retreated yesterday as the Fed minutes showed less urgency to add stimulus. Policy makers last month affirmed the plan, first announced in January, to hold interest rates near zero through late 2014 on concern the economy may fail to grow fast enough to continue bringing down unemployment.

‘Welcome Change’

“There’s no justification for the Fed to ease monetary policy further,” Vasu Menon, vice president for wealth management at Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp., said in a Bloomberg Television interview from Singapore. “The market has run up at a very heavy pace, so I think a breather or a correction would be a welcome change for now.”

Almost 50 shares fell for each that advanced in the Stoxx 600. Automakers slumped after U.S. sales of cars and light trucks in March missed the average estimate in a Bloomberg survey of analysts. PSA Peugeot Citroen slid 5.8 percent and Volkswagen AG fell 2.7 percent. Petropavlovsk Plc, a producer of gold in Russia, sank 6.5 percent as the precious metal retreated for a second day.

Germany’s DAX Index slumped 2.8 percent and Sweden’s OMX Stockholm 30 Index tumbled 3.6 percent to lead losses among major European national indexes. German factory orders increased in February less than economists had forecast. Orders, adjusted for seasonal swings and inflation, increased 0.3 percent from January, the Economy Ministry in Berlin said. Economists had predicted a gain of 1.5 percent, according to the median of 35 estimates in a Bloomberg News survey.

Euro Weakens

The euro weakened 0.7 percent to $1.3142, falling for a third straight day and reaching the weakest level since March 16. Yields on Italian and Portuguese 10-year bonds surged 21 basis points each.

The cost of insuring sovereign debt rose, with the Markit iTraxx SovX Western Europe Index of credit-default swaps linked to 15 governments climbing 6.1 basis points to 271. Swaps on Spain jumped 22 basis points to 461, the highest since November, according to CMA.

Spain sold 2.59 billion euros ($3.41 billion) of bonds due between January 2015 and October 2020, compared with a planned maximum of 3.5 billion euros.

ECB Holds Rates Steady

European Central Bank officials meeting in Frankfurt today kept the benchmark interest rate at a record low of 1 percent, as predicted by all 57 economists in a Bloomberg News survey. ECB President Mario Draghi said while a moderate economic recovery is expected this year, the outlook is subject to “downside risks” as the debt crisis damps momentum. Draghi also said any talk of an exit strategy from stimulus measures is premature for now.

Oil tumbled 2.4 percent to $101.47 a barrel, extending losses after the U.S. Energy Department said stockpiles rose 9.01 barrels to 362.4 million. Gold plunged 3.5 percent to $1,614.10 an ounce, the lowest since January, silver sank 6.7 percent and copper dropped 3.3 percent to $3.7905 a pound as 21 of 24 commodities tracked by the S&P GSCI Index retreated, sending the gauge down 2 percent for its biggest drop of the year.

Emerging Markets

Markets in China and Taiwan were shut for holidays. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index fell 1.7 percent, halting a three-day, 2.2 percent climb. The Micex Index fell 2.4 percent in Moscow and the FTSE/JSE Africa All Shares Index slid 2.3 percent in Johannesburg as oil and metals fell. Turkey’s ISE National 100 Index retreated 1.3 percent. South Korea’s Kospi Index slid 1.5 percent, the biggest loss since Dec. 19.

China accelerated the opening of its capital markets by more than doubling the amount foreigners can invest in stocks, bonds and bank deposits. The China Securities Regulatory Commission increased quotas for qualified investors to $80 billion from $30 billion, according to a statement yesterday. Offshore investors will also be allowed to pump an extra 50 billion yuan ($7.95 billion) of local currency into the country, up from 20 billion yuan.

Australia’s dollar sank to an 11-week low as data showed the nation had an unexpected trade deficit. The Aussie slid 0.7 percent to $1.0257 after Australia posted a trade deficit for a second month in February, completing the first consecutive shortfalls in two years.