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Stocks fall as Democrats turn up heat on Trump impeachment probe

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    U.S. stocks fell in choppy trade Tuesday, giving the S&P 500 its biggest daily drop in a month, as a push by some Democrats for the impeachment of U.S. President Donald Trump gained momentum.

                                Trader James Denaro works at the New York Stock Exchange.


    Trader James Denaro works at the New York Stock Exchange.

Stocks dropped on Wall Street Tuesday as House Democrats met to consider a potential impeachment probe of President Donald Trump and a report showed a drop in consumer confidence.

After a higher open, stocks declined as the Conference Board, a business research group, reported its consumer confidence index fell to 125.1 in September from a revised reading of 134.2 in August. That’s worrisome because consumer spending has underpinned the economy during a slowdown in manufacturing.

The declines intensified after reports said a growing number of Democrats were in favor of launching an impeachment inquiry against the president and House Democrats were meeting to consider the possibility. Stocks recovered somewhat after Trump said he plans to release the full transcript of a July phone call with Ukraine’s president that is at the center of the impeachment discussions.

It was the market’s most volatile day this month. The Dow Jones Industrial Average swung from a gain of 130 points to a loss of around 245 points as investors’ attention swung between headlines on economics and politics. The index finished with a loss of 142 points.

“News of increased likelihood of impeachment proceedings has just added to this overall level of uncertainty that’s out there right now,” said Willie Delwiche, investment strategist at Baird.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the House is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry after the market closed.

The swings in stocks Tuesday disrupted the relative calm that has distinguished the market in September. Traders sought safety — they piled into bonds, sending yields sharply lower. They also bid up utilities and household goods makers. All other sectors declined.

The S&P 500 index fell 25.18 points, or 0.8%, to 2,966.60. The benchmark index remains within 2% of its all-time high set in late July.

The Dow slid 142.22 points, or 0.5%, to 26,807.77. The Nasdaq lost 118.84 points, or 1.5%, to 7,993.63.

Traders also turned away from smaller company stocks. The Russell 2000 index gave up 24.64 points, or 1.6%, to 1,533.61.

Trade news was also in the mix Tuesday. Investors were optimistic after U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin confirmed that trade negotiations with China will resume the week of Oct.7. But Trump dampened that sentiment with remarks before the U.N. General Assembly, where he underscored the need for a fair trade deal with China, threatening more tariffs.

“Trump’s speech to the U.N. did not seem conciliatory toward China,” Delwiche said. “The speech today didn’t suggest that there was anything imminent in terms of good news from a trade perspective.”

Tuesday’s volatile turn in the market is a break from what has mostly been positive run for stocks this month after trade tensions between the U.S. and China eased somewhat, fueling speculation among investors that the countries’ next round of negotiations might at least yield an interim deal on trade.

The market’s gains have become weaker as September nears its end. The S&P 500 notched a 2.8% gain the first week of the month, but is currently on track for a gain of 1.4%.

While uncertainty over a possible impeachment probe into President Trump unsteadied markets Tuesday, history shows the impeachment of a president doesn’t necessarily mean disaster for the stock market.

The S&P 500 dropped 1.7% on Sept. 9, 1998, when Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr delivered his report to Congress on possible impeachable offenses by President Bill Clinton. But concern that slumping economies abroad would drag down the U.S. economy was the bigger story of the day for the market.

Two days later, when Starr’s report was released to the public, the S&P 500 jumped 2.9% after investors saw the allegations weren’t as bad as some had feared.

Stocks veered up and down in the weeks that followed but were solidly higher when the House of Representatives voted in December 1998 to impeach Clinton. When trading opened for the first time following just the second impeachment in the nation’s history, the S&P 500 rose 1.2%.

Stocks would keep jumping as they inflated until the dot-com bubble burst in 2000.

Technology stocks accounted for a big slice of the market’s decline Tuesday. Chipmaker Intel fell 2.1% and Qualcomm dropped 2.6%.

Energy stocks also dragged on the market as crude oil prices fell 2.3%. Schlumberger slid 4.7% and Halliburton gave up 5.4%.

Investors shifted money into consumer product makers and utilities. Both those sectors moved higher as they are typically considered safer places to shift money when economic growth is uncertain.

Bonds rose and pushed yields lower in another sign that investors were becoming more cautious following the weak consumer confidence data. The yield on the 10-year Treasury slipped to 1.64% from 1.7% late Monday.

Banks, including Citigroup, slid on the lower bond yields. The lower yields hamper a bank’s ability to raise interest rates on loans. Citigroup lost 2.4%.

AutoZone fell 4.4% after the auto parts retailer’s fiscal fourth quarter sales fell shy of Wall Street forecasts.

Benchmark crude oil fell $1.35 to settle at $57.29 a barrel. Brent crude oil, the international standard, dropped $1.67 to close at $63.10 a barrel. Wholesale gasoline fell 3 cents to $1.65 per gallon. Heating oil declined 3 cents to $1.97 per gallon. Natural gas fell 3 cents to $2.50 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold rose $8.40 to $1,532.10 per ounce, silver fell 8 cents to $18.52 per ounce and copper was unchanged at $2.59 per pound.

The dollar fell to 107.05 Japanese yen from 107.45 yen on Monday. The euro strengthened to $1.1018 from $1.0995.

Major European stock indexes fell.

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