U.S. Stocks Fall Amid Growing Speculation on Fed Cuts

U.S. stocks declined, giving the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index its first three-day drop since June 12, amid growing speculation the Federal Reserve will pare bond purchases this year as the economy strengthens.

Bank of America Corp. declined 0.8 percent after the Department of Justice yesterday accused the company in a lawsuit of misleading investors. Walt Disney Co. dropped 1.7 percent after quarterly profit stalled on lower earnings from films and weaker revenue at its ABC network. Time Warner Inc. fell 0.4 percent, erasing an earlier gain after an analyst downgraded the shares.

The S&P 500 slid 0.4 percent to 1,690.91 at 4 p.m. in New York. The benchmark gauge has fallen 1.1 percent this week after closing at a record on Aug. 2. The Dow Jones Industrial Average decreased 48.07 points, or 0.3 percent, to 15,470.67 today. About 5.5 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, 12 percent below the three-month average.

“We’re just going through a period of consolidation,” Terry Sandven, chief equity strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management in Minneapolis, said by phone. His firm manages $112 billion. “We still like the outlook for the broad equity market, but near term we’re probably in a trading range pattern until we get greater clarity as to what happens with quantitative easing.”

The S&P 500 sank the most in six weeks yesterday as trade data and comments from a Fed official fueled concern the central bank may reduce stimulus this year. Fed Bank of Chicago President Charles Evans said he would not rule out a decision to begin tapering in September.

‘Meaningful Improvement’

Fed Bank of Cleveland President Sandra Pianalto said today there has been “meaningful improvement” in the labor market and that tapering may be warranted if it continues to strengthen.

Fed policy makers are weighing data to determine whether the economy has improved enough to begin reducing its $85 billion in monthly bond purchases. The stimulus has helped propel the S&P 500 up more than 150 percent from its bear-market low in 2009.

A report Aug. 2 showed American companies added fewer workers than anticipated in July while the jobless rate fell to 7.4 percent. Separate data last week showed U.S. gross domestic product rose at a better-than-forecast rate and manufacturing expanded in July.

“The economic data is probably coming in a little better than expected, and because of that I think the market’s concerned that’s going to give the Fed the potential to begin tapering in September,” Mike Binger, who helps oversee about $360 million as senior portfolio manager at Gradient Investments LLC in Shoreview, Minnesota, said by phone.

Corporate Earnings

Stocks also climbed to records amid better-than-estimated corporate earnings. Of the 436 companies in the gauge that have reported results for the second quarter, 72 percent have exceeded analysts’ profit estimates and 56 percent have beaten sales projections, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

The equity index has advanced 19 percent this year and is trading at 15.3 times estimated earnings, compared with an average of 13.9 over the last five years, data compiled by Bloomberg showed.

The Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index, or VIX, rose 2 percent today to 12.98 for a second day of gains. The equity volatility gauge reached its 2013 peak in June and has since fallen 37 percent.

Seven of 10 main industry groups in the S&P 500 fell today. Shares in consumer discretionary and financial companies slid 0.8 percent for the biggest declines.

‘Toxic Waste’

Bank of America slid 0.8 percent to $14.53, paring an earlier loss of as much as 2.7 percent. The Justice Department said the firm misled investors about the quality of loans tied to $850 million in mortgage-backed securities. The complaint chronicles friction among bank staff in 2007 and 2008 as they excluded risky Alt-A loans while leaving in wholesale debts once scorned as “toxic waste” by the firm’s then-chief.

Disney fell 1.7 percent to $65.91 for the steepest decline in the Dow. The world’s biggest entertainment company said third-quarter profit was little changed from the same time last year amid costs to market the box-office disappointment “The Lone Ranger” and shrinking revenue at ABC television network.

A gauge that tracks homebuilder shares retreated for a third day, falling 2.7 percent to the lowest level since November. All 11 members of the S&P Supercomposite Homebuilders Index declined, extending the measure’s loss this week to 7.1 percent. D.R. Horton Inc. slid 3.2 percent to $18.98 and Toll Brothers Inc. lost 3 percent to $31.23.

Retailers Slide

Ralph Lauren Corp. fell 8.6 percent to $173.13. The retailer of its namesake brand clothing issued a forecast for the current quarter that implied profit would trail analysts’ estimates.

Clothing retailers slid yesterday after a Janney Montgomery analyst downgraded the sector, citing headwinds including a high level of promotional activity. The group retreated 1.3 percent today.

First Solar Inc. tumbled 13 percent to $40.47 for the biggest loss in the S&P 500. The largest U.S. solar-panel manufacturer said yesterday profit fell short of analysts’ estimates as revenue from its current project pipeline slumped. Today’s share-price drop was the steepest in five months.

Zillow Inc. tumbled 7.7 percent to $83.73. The operator of the largest U.S. real-estate information website reported a second-quarter loss on higher costs related to advertising and acquisition-related compensation.

Transportation Average

The Dow Jones Transportation Average fell for a fourth day, sliding 0.7 percent, as C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc. lost 5.5 percent to $56.31. The cargo and logistics company was downgraded to underperform from market perform by a Wells Fargo analyst after it reported yesterday sales that missed estimates.

Computer Sciences Corp. jumped 8.5 percent to $54.20 for the biggest gain in the S&P 500. The technology consultant for governments and companies forecast earnings that were higher than analysts estimated as the company cut costs and struck partnerships.

Time Warner fell 0.4 percent to $64.49. The owner of the TNT, CNN and HBO cable channels fell after a B. Riley analyst downgraded the shares to neutral from buy. The company had gained as much as 3 percent earlier in the day after reporting second-quarter profit that topped analysts’ estimates. Network advertising sales rose 11 percent, helped by the National Basketball Association playoffs on TNT and the college basketball tournament.

AOL Inc. rose 1.4 percent to $36.69 after it agreed to buy Adap.tv for about $405 million, gaining online video advertising technology used by the world’s largest brands and agencies. The purchase is the largest by AOL since Chief Executive Officer Tim Armstrong led the spinoff of the company from Time Warner in 2009.

21st Century Fox Inc.’s Class A shares advanced 1.9 percent to $31.81. Rupert Murdoch’s film and television company that in June spun off News Corp.’s publishing operation today posted a gain in fourth-quarter operating profit, bolstered by growth at cable networks including F/X and Fox News.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.