Stocks Drop the Most in a Week; Dollar Strengthens: Markets Wrap

U.S. stocks fell by the most in more than a week after Wells Fargo & Co. dragged down the banking sector in the wake of disappointing fourth-quarter results. Crude oil declined from a 10-month high as the dollar strengthened.

The energy and financial sectors led the S&P 500 into the red for a second day, with Exxon Mobil Corp. dropping 4.8% after a report said the company is being investigated for overvaluing assets. Utilities and real estate shares rose. Stocks were already lower in Europe and Asia as President-elect Joe Biden’s much-anticipated $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief plan came under scrutiny. Treasury yields declined.

Optimism about the U.S. aid package had helped spur the so-called reflation trade, but the plan is far from a done deal. Biden’s proposal could be watered down under congressional opposition, and there’s the possibility that some taxes could rise.

“There’s just a realization that this is a starting point for negotiations — there’s a little bit of a reality that this isn’t going to be a smooth quick process,” said John Porter, head of equities at Mellon Investments Corp.

Biden’s “American Rescue Plan” includes a wave of new spending, more direct payments to households, an expansion of jobless benefits and an enlargement of vaccinations and virus-testing programs as deaths reach record levels and local governments expand lockdowns.

Attention is now turning to how much of the package will ultimately get passed by Congress, with the go-big price tag and the inclusion of proposals set to be opposed by many Republicans. As lawmakers wrangle over details, U.S. jobless claims published Thursday painted a dismal picture and the U.S. is leading all countries in virus deaths with New York state reporting more than 200 daily fatalities for the first time since May.

“With a big number on the heels of a $9 billion package, it’s not going to be easy to get the next stimulus package passed,” said James Ragan, director of wealth management research at D.A. Davidson. “I think a combination of that and the weakening consumer data is causing the pause today. It was kind of inevitable, we’ve had a pretty strong run to start the year. Maybe a little more caution going into the long weekend.”

U.S. financial markets are closed Monday for the observance of Martin Luther King holiday.

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