Wall Street slips from record highs after U.S. kills top Iranian commander

FILE PHOTO: Traders work at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., January 2, 2020. REUTERS/Bryan R Smith

January 3, 2020

By Manas Mishra

(Reuters) – Wall Street’s major indexes fell from record highs on Friday after a U.S. air strike in Iraq killed a top Iranian commander, sharply escalating geopolitical tensions in the Middle East and sending investors scurrying to safe-haven assets.

Iran vowed revenge after Qassem Soleimani, head of its elite Quds Force, was killed in the air strike that was authorized by President Donald Trump.

Benchmark bond yields <US10YT=RR> fell to their lowest level since Dec. 12, dragging down bank shares, including those of Bank of America Corp <BAC.N> and Citigroup Inc <C.N>. Nine of the 11 major S&P 500 sectors were in the red.

“The market is just on edge and giving up a large portion of yesterday’s gains,” said Robert Pavlik, chief investment strategist at SlateStone Wealth LLC in New York.

“There is a question of what this (air strike) is going to turn into and if it’s going to be something long lasting.”

The CBOE Volatility index <.VIX>, an options-based gauge of investor anxiety, hit its highest level since Dec. 10.

At 10:22 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average <.DJI> was down 243.50 points, or 0.84%, at 28,625.30, the S&P 500 <.SPX> was down 24.97 points, or 0.77%, at 3,232.88. The Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> was down 72.91 points, or 0.80%, at 9,019.28.

The three main indexes had closed at record highs on Thursday as fresh steps by China’s central bank to boost its economy added to investor optimism over trade and the global outlook.

But denting sentiment further on Friday, data showed the U.S. manufacturing sector contracted in December by the most in more than a decade.

Benefiting from higher gold prices, miners Newmont Goldcorp <NEM.N>, Kirkland Lake <KL.N> and Barrick Gold <GOLD.N> gained between 0.7% and 1.2%.

Weapons makers Lockheed Martin <LMT.N> and Northrop Grumman <NOC.N> added more than 3% each.

Meanwhile, American Airlines Group Inc <AAL.O> and Southwest Airlines Co <LUV.N> fell 4.9% and 2.4%, respectively, as oil prices jumped about 4%.

In a bright spot, Tesla Inc’s <TSLA.O> shares hit a fresh record after beating Wall Street estimates for vehicle deliveries in its fourth quarter and meeting the low-end of its full-year delivery goal.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 1.61-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and for a 2.65-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded nine new 52-week highs and one new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 14 new highs and eight new lows.

(Reporting by Manas Mishra and Medha Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva)

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