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U.S. Stocks Fall as Kerry Comments on Syria Situation

By Nick Taborek
August 26, 2013 4:52 PM EDT 45 Comments
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a statement about the use of chemical weapons in Syria at the Department of State in Washington, D.C. on August 26, 2013.
Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a statement about the use of chemical weapons in Syria at the Department of State in Washington, D.C. on August 26, 2013.

U.S. stocks fell, with the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index’s halting two days of gains, after Secretary of State John Kerry said the president will hold Syria’s government accountable for using chemical weapons.

Tyson Foods Inc. (TSN), the largest U.S. meat processor, slid 7.3 percent after Bank of America Corp. analysts cut their rating on the stock. Archer-Daniels-Midland Co., the largest corn processor, dropped 4.9 percent as hot, dry weather in the Midwest threatened to reduce crop harvests. Amgen Inc. jumped 7.7 percent after agreeing to buy cancer-treatment developer Onyx Pharmaceuticals Inc. in a $10.4 billion transaction.

The S&P 500 declined 0.4 percent to 1,656.78 at 4 p.m. in New York, erasing an earlier gain of as much as 0.4 percent. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 64.05 points, or 0.4 percent, to 15,946.46.

“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.”

President Barack Obama is consulting with allies and members of Congress and “believes there must be accountability for those who have used the world’s most dangerous weapons,” Kerry said.

1,300 Deaths

“By any standard it is inexcusable,” Kerry told reporters in Washington today, saying evidence makes it “undeniable” that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime was responsible for last week’s attack that the opposition blames for more than 1,300 deaths.

The S&P 500 spiked lower following the statements after earlier extending its first weekly gain since Aug. 2., as investors speculated whether a report showing durable-goods orders fell in July would delay stimulus cuts.

A Commerce Department report showed bookings for goods meant to last at least three years decreased 7.3 percent, the most since August 2012, after a 3.9 percent gain in June. Orders waned for aircraft and capital goods such as computers and electrical equipment.

“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. “Given that the Fed’s position is data dependent, then I think that the odds are increasing that there’ll be less tightening than more.”

Fed Debate

Stocks rebounded last week after a data showing a plunge in sales of new homes eased concern that the Federal Reserve would curb stimulus efforts next month. Officials have been weighing whether the economy is strong enough to prompt a reduction in stimulus, which has helped propel the S&P 500 up as much as 153 percent from its March 2009 low.

Speculation about the stimulus has whipsawed stocks since May, when Chairman Ben S. Bernanke first indicated cuts could start this year. Sixty-five percent of economists in a Bloomberg Aug. 9-13 survey said the first reduction would come at the Sept. 17-18 meeting.

The Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index (VIX), or VIX, rose 7.2 percent to 14.99 today, surging after Kerry’s comments to reverse an earlier drop of 0.6 percent. The equity volatility gauge has jumped 27 percent since Aug. 5.

Volume Slump

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 have changed hands each day this month. That’s about 60 million shares more than last August. About 4.7 billion shares traded today, 24 percent below the three-month average.

Nine of 10 major groups in the S&P 500 fell. Shares in phone companies and consumer staples producers lost at least 1.1 percent to pace declines. Procter & Gamble Co. slid 1.8 percent to $78.54 for the steepest drop in the Dow. AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. retreated 1.4 percent.

Tyson Foods dropped 7.3 percent to $29.17 for the steepest decline in the S&P 500. Ryan Oksenhendler and Bryan Spillane at Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch unit cut the shares to neutral, similar to a hold rating, from buy, after a 62 percent rally this year.

“Industry data indicate a steep increase in production,” the analysts wrote in a report today. “In our view, this is likely to cause industry margins to peak sooner than we expected.” They also cut Tyson’s 2014 profit estimates, citing lower chicken prices.

Hot, Dry

Archer-Daniels-Midland (ADM) fell 4.9 percent to $34.50, while Kraft Foods Group Inc. declined 1.4 percent to $52.08, the lowest since May. 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.

An S&P index of homebuilders added 0.5 percent, rebounding from a 3.1 percent drop on Aug. 23 following the new home-sales report. The gauge has lost 26 percent since climbing to near a six-year high on May 14, as rising interest rates have raised concern that the housing recovery could slow. Treasury 10-year yields retreated today.

KB Home rose 1.2 percent to $16.63 today and Toll Brothers Inc. advanced 0.8 percent to $31.43. Home Depot Inc., the largest U.S. home-improvement retailer, climbed 2.1 percent to $75.43 for the biggest increase in the Dow.

‘Firm Footing’

“The home industry is on firm footing,” Jim Russell, senior equity strategist for U.S. Bank Wealth Management, said in an interview from Cincinnati. His firm oversees $110 billion. “We do think the homebuilders are going to be pretty much tied at the hip to the daily interest rate moves, and absolutely tied to what’s decided on the taper.”

Amgen gained 7.7 percent to a record $113.75 for the biggest gain in the S&P 500. The pharmaceuticals maker agreed to pay $125 a share for Onyx’s outstanding stock, the companies said in a statement yesterday. Onyx’s Kyprolis, approved last year for a rare blood cancer, may spur more than $3 billion in revenue by 2021, according to analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Onyx jumped 5.6 percent to $123.49.

Anadarko Petroleum Corp. (APC) climbed 1.4 percent to $91.02. The oil explorer said in a statement yesterday it agreed to sell a 10 percent stake in a Mozambique gas field to ONGC Videsh Ltd., a unit of India’s biggest energy explorer, for $2.64 billion.

$100 Billion

Facebook Inc. (FB) advanced 2 percent to $41.34. The market value of the world’s largest social network topped $100 billion at the close for the first time since its initial public offering in May 2012. The stock has more than doubled since falling to a record low of $17.73 in September.

TMS International Corp. jumped 12 percent to $17.48. Chicago’s Pritzker family, owner of a controlling stake in Hyatt Hotels Corp., agreed to acquire the steel mill servicer for $690 million in cash. TMS is the largest producer of outsourced industrial services to steel mills in North America as measured by revenue.

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 Harry S. Truman was president.

‘Running Away’

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. The rally that started in March 2009 has now outlasted the average gain since 1946, the data show.

“Markets have been running away,” Robert Royle, who helps oversee $21 billion as manager of the North American Trust at Smith & Williamson Investment Management LLP in London, said by telephone on Aug. 20. “Everyone is hoping for a second-half recovery in fundamentals,” he said. “I am just not sure what will drive the recovery.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Nick Taborek in Washington at ntaborek@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Lynn Thomasson at lthomasson@bloomberg.net

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