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Stocks close lower as falling oil prices rattle market

CNBC logo CNBC 4 days ago Fred Imbert

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Stocks fell sharply Friday as further losses in oil prices sparked fears of a global economic slowdown, but the major indexes were still on pace for solid weekly gains.

The Dow closed 201 points lower as Caterpillar losses offset gains from Disney. The S&P 500 dropped 0.9 percent, led lower by communications services shares and tech. The Nasdaq lagged, shedding 1.6 percent as shares of Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Alphabet all fell. 

West Texas Intermediate futures fell 1.1 percent to $59.98 a barrel, breaking below $60 for the first time since March. They also fell further into bear-market territory, trading more than 20 percent below their 52-week high.

Disappointing data out of China also dampened sentiment on Wall Street. The country's top auto industry association said sales in China fell 11.7 percent last month, marking the fourth straight monthly decline. The Shanghai Composite fell 1.4 percent overnight. Caterpillar shares dropped 3.3 percent in the U.S. while General Motors' stock fell 3.1 percent. 

"The overall trend is definitely weakening," said Benjamin Lau, chief investment officer of Apriem Advisors. "You're seeing it in some of the earnings." 

"We're seeing more anecdotal evidence that the global economy is weakening from the bottom end to the top end," Lau said. 

The weak Chinese economic data come as the U.S. and China engage in a trade spat that has been going on for most of the year. The two countries have slapped tariffs on billions of dollars worth of each other's goods as the U.S. seeks a better trade deal with China. 

"If there is a deal ... it will be on President Donald J. Trump's terms. Not Wall Street's terms," White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said Friday. 

These sharp losses have rekindled worries about a possible slowdown in the global economy, which come as the Federal Reserve looks to further tighten monetary policy. The Fed on Thursday decided to leave its benchmark interest rate unchanged, as was expected, but comments by the U.S. central bank suggested it was on course to continue hiking rates. 

Although a statement released by the institution noted a moderation in business investment, it said the bank still expects "further gradual increases" in the prime lending rate. Traders had been on edge last month due to concerns over the Fed's rate hiking path. 

But equities were still on track to record strong gains for the week, following a big post-midterm elections rally. 

The S&P 500 and Dow were up 3.1 percent and 3.6 percent for the week through Thursday's close, respectively. The Nasdaq, meanwhile, was up 2.4 percent. 

The U.S. midterm elections ended with the Democrats taking control of the House and the GOP maintaining a majority in the Senate. This result was widely expected by pollsters and election experts. Under this government make-up, meaning a split Congress and a Republican president, the S&P 500 has averaged a 12 percent gain since 1928, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch. 

"We've got this 'yes but' scenario, meaning things are good right now but a lot can still happen," said Matt Lloyd, chief investment strategist at Advisors Asset Management. "There's still some turmoil and some volatility keeping investors on the sidelines." 

On the earnings front, Yelp shares plunged more than 25 percent after releasing its latest quarterly results. Dow-member Disney, meanwhile, rose 2.6 percent on the back of better-than-expected results.

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