U.S. stocks fell sharply in late-afternoon trading Wednesday as investors fretted that the latest turmoil in Washington could hinder President Donald Trump’s pro-business agenda.
The steep drop, which sent the Dow Jones industrial average down more than 300 points, ended an unusually long period of calm in the markets. Financial stocks, which had soared in the months since the election, slumped the most as bond yields declined and traders piled into utilities, gold and other traditional safe-haven assets.
KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 36 points, or 1.5 percent, to 2,364 as of 3:04 p.m. Eastern Time. The Dow Jones industrial average slid 317 points, or 1.5 percent, to 20,662. The Nasdaq composite index gave up 135 points, or 2.2 percent, to 6,034, a day after closing at its latest record high.
Small-company stocks fell more than the rest of the market. The Russell 2000 index sank 38 points, or 2.8 percent, to 1,355. Those companies would stand to benefit even more than large ones from corporate tax cuts Trump is proposing. They also had risen sharply in the months following the election.
THE QUOTE: Investors are questioning whether or not President Donald Trump’s agenda can remain on track in light of the growing questions and allegations playing out in the media, said Quincy Krosby, market strategist at Prudential Financial.
“You could see gold was up, the dollar weakened and money went into the Treasury markets,” Krosby said. “As long as it seems as if the Trump agenda can be realized before the midterm election, it’s OK with the market, but once you introduce uncertainty into that trajectory, that’s something the market has to reassess.”
TRUMP JITTERS: A published report late Tuesday revealed that Trump allegedly made a personal appeal to now-fired FBI Director James Comey to drop the bureau’s investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. The White House denied the report. Even so, the latest political drama unfolding in Washington weighed on markets, stoking concerns over how the potential fallout may affect the Trump administration’s ability to pass corporate tax cuts and other business-friendly reforms.
CALM RIDE ENDING? The market is coming off an unusually long period of calm after hitting a series of record highs. On Tuesday the S&P 500, the benchmark favored by professional investors, marked its 15th straight day of moving up or down by less than 0.5 percent. It closed at its latest record high on Monday.
BANKS SLIDE: Several financial companies fell sharply as bond yields declined, which will mean lower interest rates on loans. Bank of America slid $1.42, or 5.9 percent, to $22.57. Citizens Financial Group gave up $2.36, or 6.4 percent, to $34.72. Comerica lost $3.89, or 5.5 percent, to $67.40.
BAD LOOK: American Eagle slumped 14.7 percent after the apparel retailer’s first-quarter earnings fell short of financial analysts’ expectations. The company, which blamed weak mall traffic, also issued second-quarter guidance that came in lower than analysts’ forecasts. The stock lost $1.90 to $11.06.
STRONG QUARTER: Target gained 1.4 percent after the retailer posted surprisingly strong earnings for the first quarter. The stock added 74 cents to $55.28.
JACKED: Jack in the Box climbed 5.7 percent after the restaurant chain’s latest quarterly results exceeded Wall Street’s forecasts. The company also said it would consider spinning off its Qdoba Mexican restaurant chain. The stock added $5.85 to $107.74.
TREASURY YIELDS: Bond prices rose. The 10-year Treasury yield fell to 2.21 percent from 2.33 percent late Tuesday.
CURRENCIES: Unease over the potential implications of the latest political fallout in Washington weighed on the dollar Wednesday. The euro strengthened to $1.1150 from $1.1095. Against the yen, the dollar was down to 111.12 yen from 113.03.
OIL: Benchmark U.S. crude rose 41 cents, or 0.8 percent, to close at $49.07 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained 56 cents, or 1.1 percent, to close at $52.21 per barrel in London. In other futures trading, natural gas fell 4 cents to $3.19 per 1,000 cubic feet. Wholesale gasoline was little changed at $1.60 per gallon. Heating oil rose 2 cents to $1.53 per gallon.
METALS: The price of gold jumped 1.8 percent, climbing $22.30 to settle at $1,258.70 per ounce. Silver added 16 cents to $16.85 per ounce. Copper was little changed at $2.54 per pound.
MARKETS OVERSEAS: In Europe, Germany’s DAX fell 1.4 percent. The CAC 40 in France slid 1.6 percent. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares dipped 0.2 percent. Asian markets mostly fell. Japan’s Nikkei 225 dropped 0.5 percent, while South Korea’s Kospi dipped 0.1 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index slipped 0.2 percent.
The Associated Press contributed to this report