Wall St. falls on China virus concerns, Facebook earnings

(Reuters) – U.S. stocks fell on Thursday as the coronavirus epidemic raised fears of a further hit to China’s economy, while weak earnings from Facebook and others added to the gloom.

Shares of the social media giant (FB.O) dropped 6.4% after the company warned of slowing growth as its business matured and reported a surge in quarterly expenses.

The S&P communication services index .SPLRCL fell 1.6%, the most among the 11 major S&P subsectors. Defensive sectors such as utilities and consumer staples, considered safer in times of economic uncertainties, posted slight gains.

The main U.S. stock indexes are on course for their second weekly declines as the death toll from China’s epidemic climbed to 170, spreading to over 15 countries, disrupting global travel and leading several companies to suspend operations in China.

The World Health Organization’s Emergency Committee is due to reconvene on Thursday to decide whether to declare the virus a global emergency.

“We are still in the fear phase. There is not enough information to know how bad the virus is going to get,” said Ed Keon, chief investment strategist at QMA, a multi-asset manager in Newark, New Jersey.

“You see an initial drop as investors react to fears of things going worse than what is actually happening. Usually things bottom when you get to the worst part.”

At 11:36 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI was down 0.35% at 28,633.02.

The S&P 500 .SPX dropped 0.48% to 3,257.76 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC fell 0.49% to 9,229.46.

Earnings expectations have been improving slowly, with analysts forecasting a 0.7% rise in fourth-quarter profit for S&P 500 companies, compared with a 0.6% decline estimated at the start of the season, according to Refinitiv data.

Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) gained 2.4% after it beat expectations for quarterly earnings, driven by Azure cloud computing revenue growth.

Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) jumped 10.8% after the maker of electric cars posted a second straight quarterly profit as vehicle deliveries hit a record.

Altria Inc (MO.N) slid 4.8% after the tobacco company said it took another $4 billion charge on its investment in Juul Labs Inc.

FILE PHOTO: A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange shortly after the opening bell in New York, U.S., January 24, 2020. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Package delivery firm United Parcel Service Inc (UPS.N) dropped 4.9% after it forecast full-year earnings below estimates.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 2.35-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and a 2.74-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 28 new 52-week highs and 13 new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 37 new highs and 79 new lows.

Reporting by Sruthi Shankar and Medha Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva and Saumyadeb Chakrabarty

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