Wall Street Sinks on Weak Earnings, Data

Markets Reuters

Global stock indexes fell on Tuesday following disappointing earnings results and weaker-than-expected U.S. durable goods orders, while the euro rose for a second day against the dollar.

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All three major U.S. stock indexes were down around 2 percent in early trading.

Shares of Microsoft and Caterpillar weighed on U.S. stocks. Microsoft's <MSFT.O> results showed the main engine of its historic earnings power, selling Windows and Office software to big businesses, is waning. Caterpillar's <CAT.N> quarterly profit came in below analysts' expectations and it warned that lower oil prices will hurt 2015 results.

"U.S. equities could come under pressure as investors ratchet down their growth estimates for the U.S. economy," said Brian Jacobsen, chief portfolio strategist at Wells Fargo Funds Management in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.

"There was just too much hype about the U.S. economy having risen into a new and higher growth channel. We’re still stumbling along."

Data showing an unexpected decline in U.S. durable goods orders added to the weaker tone for stocks. Offsetting some of the bearish news was a U.S. consumer confidence reading that was the highest since 2007.

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Investors also were cautious ahead of the first policy meeting of the U.S. Federal Reserve this year. They will be keen to hear the Fed's response to policy easing by global central banks such as the European Central Bank, whose long-awaited plan to buy bonds to revive the flagging euro zone has propelled bond yields and the euro to multi-year lows and stocks to multi-year highs.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> fell 362.28 points, or 2.05 percent, at 17,316.42. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> was down 33.18 points, or 1.61 percent, at 2,023.91. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> was down 99.71 points, or 2.09 percent, at 4,672.06.

A snow storm engulfing New York kept many investment banks and fund managers on skeleton staff, though the main exchanges were open.

MSCI's global share index <.MIWD00000PUS> was down 0.6 percent, while an index of European shares <.FTEU3> fell 1.1 percent.

Russia was also in the spotlight after a cut to its credit rating dealt a further blow to the rouble, though by Tuesday the currency had regained some ground against the dollar.

The cost of insuring exposure to Russia's debt rose after Standard & Poor's cut Russia's sovereign credit rating to "junk" late on Monday, citing weakened economic growth prospects and Western sanctions over Ukraine.

The euro rose for a second day against the dollar.

The single currency climbed to $1.1369 <EUR=>, up 1.2 percent on the day, moving further away from an 11-year low of $1.1098 hit early on Monday after it became clear that Greece had voted in a new anti-bailout government.

Investors widely expect the Federal Reserve to acknowledge the uncertain global outlook and stick to its promise to be patient on tightening. Yet its timetable remains for higher rates by mid-year, a trajectory that presages further broad-based gains for the dollar.

U.S. Treasuries prices were higher, with yields on benchmark 10-year note <US10YT=RR> dipping to 1.75 percent.

In commodity markets, oil prices were up slightly, along with gold. Brent futures <LCOc1> were trading at $48.37 a barrel, up 21 cents, and U.S. crude <CLc1> was up 32 cents at $45.47 a barrel. Spot gold <XAU=> was up 0.5 percent at $1,287.30 an ounce.

(Additional reporting by Rodrigo Campos in New York; and Lionel Laurent, John Geddie, Francesco Canepa, Jemima Kelly, Karin Strohecker; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Dan Grebler)