U.S. Stocks Fall on Syria Concern; Treasuries, Crops Gain

U.S. stocks fell, erasing earlier gains in the final hour, as Secretary of State John Kerry said the president will hold Syria’s government accountable for using chemical weapons. Treasuries advanced, while crops led commodities higher.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index decreased 0.4 percent to 1,656.78 at 4 p.m. in New York with trading volumes 21 percent below the 30-day average. The yield on 10-year Treasuries dropped three basis points to 2.79 percent while the S&P GSCI Index of 24 raw materials climbed 0.2 percent to a one-month high, with corn and soybeans surging as hot, dry weather in the Midwest threatened to reduce crop harvests. Turkey’s lira slid as much as 0.6 percent to a record against the dollar and India’s rupee sank 1.5 percent.

The S&P 500 was up as much as 0.4 percent earlier and turned lower as Kerry said President Barack Obama will make an “informed decision” and hold Syria’s government accountable for the “moral obscenity” of using chemical weapons against its people. Economic data this morning showed durable goods orders in the U.S. fell in July for the first month since March, triggering speculation the Federal Reserve will not commit to a large-scale reduction in stimulus efforts.

“If there’s going to be turmoil and then if there’s going to be some retaliation and affect U.S. assets, people get a little scared,” Frank Ingarra, head trader at Greenwich, Connecticut-based NorthCoast Asset Management LLC, said in a phone interview. “It’s a bit of a pullback so people are probably taking some risk off the table.”

Syria Concern

Obama hasn’t decided whether the U.S. will take military action in Syria, according to an administration official who asked for anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. Kerry said the evidence is “undeniable” that chemical weapons were used against residents of a Damascus suburb last week and that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has the toxic weapons and the capability to deploy them. Suggestions that reports of the attack have been fabricated are groundless, he said.

Stocks, bonds and commodities have been whipsawed since May, when Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke first signaled the prospect of cuts to stimulus should the economy and job market continue to improve. The Fed will probably pare its $85 billion a month in bond purchases at its Sept. 17-18 meeting, according to 65 percent of economists surveyed by Bloomberg Aug. 9-13.

The S&P 500 advanced 0.5 percent last week, halting a two week slide. Bookings for goods meant to last at least three years decreased 7.3 percent last month, the most since August 2012, after a 3.9 percent gain in June, the Commerce Department said today. The median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a 4 percent drop.

‘Slow Recovery’

“It’s another data point that indicates a slow recovery,” Eric Teal, who helps oversee $5 billion as the chief investment officer at First Citizens BancShares Inc. in Raleigh, North Carolina, said by phone. “This is all pointing towards less tapering by the Fed, which is probably bullish for the stock market in general.”

Telephone, consumer-staples and utility companies lost at least 0.8 percent to lead declines in the 10 main industry groups in the S&P 500, with health-care stocks posting the only gain. Procter & Gamble Co., Microsoft Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc. lost more than 1.4 percent for the biggest declines in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Market Movers

Onyx Pharmaceuticals Inc. jumped 5.6 percent after Amgen Inc. agreed to acquire the cancer-treatment developer in a $10.4 billion transaction. Tyson Foods Inc., the largest U.S. meat processor, fell 7.3 percent after Bank of America Corp. analysts cut their rating on the stock. Facebook Inc. rallied for a third day, gaining almost 2 percent and sending its market value above $100 billion amid optimism the world’s largest social network can bolster sales from mobile advertising.

Trading in the U.S. is headed for the second-slowest month in at least five years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. An average of about 5.5 billion shares have changed hands each day this month. That’s about 60 million shares more than last August.

Price gains of stocks in the S&P 500 are outpacing profits by the fastest rate in 14 years as the bull market extends beyond the average length of rallies since 1946. The benchmark gauge for U.S. equities has risen 14 percent relative to income over the past 12 months to 16 times earnings, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Valuations last climbed this fast in the final year of the 1990s technology bubble, just before the index began a 49 percent tumble.

European Stocks

About two shares declined for each that gained in the Stoxx Europe 600 Index, while the gauge closed little changed amid volume 57 percent lower than the 30-day average. U.K. markets were shut for a holiday.

Royal KPN NV increased 3 percent in Amsterdam after winning the support of minority shareholder America Movil SAB for the sale of its German business to Telefonica Deutschland Holding AG after the acquirer agreed to sweeten its bid.

The MSCI Emerging Markets Index fell 0.1 percent after slumping 2.7 percent last week. About $1.4 trillion has been erased from the value of emerging-market equities since Bernanke said May 22 that policy makers could scale back bond buying.

Soybeans gained 4.6 percent and corn rallied 6.5 percent.

Crop Concern

Temperatures will average as much as 14 degrees Fahrenheit above normal during the next seven days, with little rain expected in the Midwest, T-Storm Weather LLC said in a note to clients today. Rainfall in July and August will be the least since 1936 in Iowa, Illinois and Indiana. Soybean yields will be 1.8 percent lower than the government forecast Aug. 12, Professional Farmers of America said Aug. 23, after a tour of more than 2,600 fields in seven states last week.

West Texas Intermediate crude lost 0.5 percent to $105.92 a barrel following the durable goods report and as Libya restarted exports from a previously closed port. Gold futures increased 0.6 percent to $1,403.70 an ounce in extended trading after settling the regular session down 0.2 percent.

The U.S. currency was stronger against 11 of 16 major peers and the Bloomberg U.S. Dollar Index, a gauge of the greenback versus 10 counterparts, increased 0.1 percent.

Thirty-year Treasury yields, which reached a two-year high last week, fell 2.6 basis points to 3.77 percent. Two-year rates lost one point to 0.36 percent.

As the U.S. bond market suffers its worst rout since 2009, the gauge that historically signals more pain for fixed-income investors is instead suggesting yields are near their peak.

Yield Curves

The gap between two- and 10-year Treasury yields widened to 2.55 percentage points this month, double the median of 1.23 points since 1990 and approaching the record 2.93 points in February 2010, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The yield curve is steepening at the fastest pace since 2009 as the Fed signals its intent to keep the target interest rate for overnight loans between banks at about zero into 2015 while reducing the bond-buying economic stimulus that drove 10-year yields to the highest level in more than two years.

Italian 10-year yields rose five basis points to 4.38 percent and Spain’s rate was little changed at 4.46 percent while German bund yields declined four basis points, or 0.04 percentage point, to 1.89 percent.

European Central Bank Governing Council members Panicos Demetriades and Ewald Nowotny split over whether scope remains for further interest-rate cuts, while three regional Fed presidents differed over the timing for reducing bond buying as central bankers met over the weekend in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

The ECB still can’t rule out lowering the benchmark rate from the record low of 0.5 percent, Bank of Cyprus Governor Demetriades said in an Aug. 24 interview. Bank of Austria Governor Nowotny said on Aug. 22 that he doesn’t see “many arguments now for a rate cut” after the recent “stream of good news.”

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