S&P 500 Drops Most in 9 Weeks Amid Tension Over Syria

U.S. stocks fell, with the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index dropping the most since June 20, as growing tension over possible military action in Syria overshadowed a report showing consumer confidence unexpectedly rose in August.

Financial and technology shares lost at least 2 percent to lead declines among 10 S&P 500 main industries. American Express Co. and Microsoft Corp. sank more than 2.3 percent. Southwest Airlines Co. tumbled 3.5 percent amid concern surging oil prices will boost fuel costs. D.R. Horton Inc. fell 3.8 percent as a report showed residential real-estate prices increased in June at a slower pace.

The S&P 500 slid 1.6 percent to 1,630.48 at 4 p.m. in New York, the lowest closing level since July 3 and 4.6 percent below the latest record on Aug. 2. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 170.33 points, or 1.1 percent, to 14,776.13, The gauge has fallen eight of the past 10 sessions to the lowest since June 25.

“Everybody’s waiting to see what’s going to happen,” Randy Bateman, who oversees $15 billion as chief investment officer of Huntington Asset Advisors in Columbus, Ohio, said by phone. “Is this going to escalate? Energy prices, if they rise a whole lot, could that mitigate all the strength we’ve been seeing lately in the economy? If we’ve got housing prices that start to rise at the same time we have food and fuel increasing, we could see inflation start to rise and that could impact Fed policy.”

Held Accountable

The benchmark gauge fell 0.4 percent yesterday, reversing an early gain of as much as 0.4 percent after Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. will hold Syria’s government accountable for using chemical weapons, fanning concern unrest may disrupt Middle East oil supplies. Crude rose to an 18-month high today.

The U.S., France and Britain stepped closer today to a military strike against Syria, laying the legal groundwork to justify action, moving forces into place and rounding up allies in the region. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the BBC that the U.S. has “assets in place” and forces are “ready to go.”

The introduction of troops isn’t being considered, nor is imposition of a no-fly zone over Syria, according to a U.S. official who asked for anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Growing speculation the Federal Reserve will reduce its monthly bond buying has also weighed on equities in recent weeks. Minutes of the central bank’s July meeting released Aug. 21 showed policy makers supported stimulus cuts this year if the economy improves.

Consumer Confidence

Data today showed consumer confidence unexpectedly increased in August as Americans grew more optimistic about the outlook for the economy. A report from the Fed Bank of Richmond showed the overall business activity index for mid-Atlantic region, which accounts for 9.1 percent of gross domestic product, rose faster than estimated last month.

Investors are also watching the political wrangling over the approaching limit on federal spending. The U.S. government is expected to exhaust its ability to borrow funds in mid-October, when it will hit the statutory debt limit, according to an estimate from the Treasury Department in a letter to lawmakers released yesterday.

“It further adds to the degree of uncertainty that’s out there,” Bateman said.

Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew reiterated today that the Obama administration won’t negotiate over the debt limit, saying he thinks lawmakers understand the need to preserve the U.S.’s “rock-solid” pledge to meet its commitments.

Spending Cuts

House Speaker John Boehner said last month Republicans wouldn’t increase the debt ceiling “without real cuts in spending” that would achieve a further reduction in the deficit.

The Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index, or VIX, jumped 12 percent to 16.72 today, headed for the highest close since June 28. The equity volatility gauge has surged 40 percent since a five-month low on Aug. 5.

Trading in U.S. exchanges is heading for the second-slowest month in at least five years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. An average of about 5.5 billion shares changed hands each day this month. That’s about 60 million shares more than last August. About 6.2 billion shares traded today, in line with the three month average.

Moving Average

Today’s drop in the S&P 500 pushed the gauge below its average during the past 100 days for a second time this year, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The average measure, which is followed by some analysts who study charts to gauge the market’s trends, was last broken on a closing basis on June 24, when the index bottomed after a 5.8 percent retreat from its May peak. The threshold stood near 1,638 recently.

All 10 main S&P 500 groups retreated. American Express fell 2.3 percent to $71.91, the lowest since May 14. Microsoft dropped 2.6 percent to $33.26 for the steepest slide in the Dow.

Airlines dropped as West Texas Intermediate crude rose to a the highest since February 2012 amid the tension in Syria. The Bloomberg U.S. Airlines Index tumbled 5.1 percent to the lowest since June, as all 10 members retreated.

Southwest dropped 3.5 percent to $12.80. United Continental Holdings Inc. plunged 7.2 percent to $27.71 and Delta Air Lines Inc. slumped 5.7 percent to $19.11.

The S&P Supercomposite Homebuilding Index slipped 2.5 percent. The gauge has plunged 28 percent since a May high amid signs that the rate of improvement in the housing market is cooling.

Home Prices

Residential real-estate prices increased in June at a slower pace, the S&P/Case-Shiller index showed today. Data last week revealed a larger-than-forecast drop in sales of new homes in July. D.R. Horton dropped 3.8 percent to $17.99, the lowest in almost 13 months, while PulteGroup Inc. slid 3.5 percent to $15.59.

Best Buy Co. lost 2.2 percent to $35.02. Richard Schulze, the electronics retailer’s founder and largest shareholder, said he plans to sell an undisclosed amount of its stock to diversify his assets and raise money.

DSW Inc. jumped 7.9 percent to a record $87.75. The shoe retailer reported second-quarter profit excluding some items of 97 cents a share, beating the average estimate of 79 cents from analysts in a Bloomberg survey.