Wall Street closes lower as virus spike hits travel stocks

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Stocks on Wall Street fell for a second straight day on Tuesday as a global spike in coronavirus cases hit travel-related shares and investors had second thoughts about big U.S. banks’ apparently stellar earnings last week.

FILE PHOTO: The front facade of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) is seen in New York, U.S., February 16, 2021. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Kansas City Southern surged 15.2% on the prospect of a bidding war after Canadian National offered about $30 billion for the U.S. railroad, some $5 billion more than an earlier offer from Canadian Pacific.

Boeing Co slid 4.1% on the unexpected departure of its finance chief, the latest shock to hit the planemaker as it fights to recover from the pandemic and 737 MAX crisis.

Investors piled into defensive sectors considered relatively safe during times of economic uncertainty, lifting real estate, utilities, consumer staples and healthcare as financials and energy shares fell hard.

Shares of airline operators and cruiseliners including JetBlue Airways, American Airlines, Norwegian Cruise Line and Carnival Corp, which were hammered last year during lockdowns but have climbed recently on the reopening hopes, fell more than 4%.

Some of the recent optimism about the leisure industry has waned as the reopening might take a bit longer than initially thought, said Michael James, managing director of equity trading at Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles.

“We’re not out of the woods yet when it comes to the COVID virus and getting to where global economies are reopening,” he said. “Some of that enthusiasm has diminished.”

A leading epidemiologist at the World Health Organization said on Monday the latest rise in COVID-19 infections worldwide reflected increases among all age groups.

Wall Street scaled record highs last week as investors bet on stocks such as industrials and miners that are seen as benefiting from the economic rebound, while highly valued technology stocks regained favor after a retreat in bond yields.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.75% to 33,821.3. The S&P 500 shed 0.68% to 4,134.94 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 0.92% to 13,786.27.

It was the first back-to-back declines for the S&P since the end of March.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 10.21 billion shares, compared with the 10.59 billion average for the full session over the last 20 trading days.

The CBOE volatility index, known as Wall Street’s fear gauge, climbed above 19 points for the first time since March 31, before closing at 18.71.

JPMorgan Chase & Co, Bank of America Corp, Citigroup Inc and Wells Fargo & Co led financials lower as analysts reassessed their earnings reports, said Dick Bove, senior research analyst at Odeon Capital Group.

Accounting changes on how to report loan reserves skewered numbers when compared to a year ago, he said.

“People made the assumption this was a gangbusters quarter for the banking industry when that’s far from the truth,” Bove said, adding second-half profits are expected to be very strong.

United Airlines Holdings Inc was the largest decliner, falling 8.5%, on the S&P 500 after reporting a bigger-than-expected adjusted net loss to push the S&P 1500 airline index down 4.6%.

Shares of video-streaming service provider Netflix Inc, which thrived during last year’s lockdowns, fell 0.9% ahead of its results due after the closing bell.

Netflix tumbled about 10% in after-hours trade following news that the company added fewer-than-expected paid subscribers in the first quarter, weighed down by a lighter content slate in the first half of 2021 due to COVID-19 production delays.

International Business Machines Corp rose 3.8% after recording the biggest increase in quarterly sales in more than two years.

Analysts expect first-quarter earnings from S&P 500 firms to jump 31.5% from a year earlier, according to Refinitiv IBES data.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 2.71-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 3.18-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 61 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 47 new highs and 116 new lows.

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