NEW YORK – Another plunge in the price of crude oil sent stocks sharply lower on Wednesday, bringing the market to its lowest level in nearly two years. The Dow Jones industrial average sank more than 500 points.
Energy companies were pummeled as the price of crude oil sank 7 percent, threatening more damage to an industry that has already been stricken with bankruptcies, layoffs and other cutbacks.
The price of U.S. crude fell below $27 a barrel amid a global glut in oil supplies that seems to be getting worse. That’s the lowest price since May 2003 and a far cry from the $100 a barrel it fetched in the summer of 2014.
Overseas markets fared no better. Japan’s Nikkei index entered a bear market, down 20 percent from its peak in June, and European benchmarks lost between 3 and 4 percent.
Gold and U.S. government bonds, traditional safe havens, rose in value as investors shifted money out of stocks.
KEEPING SCORE: The Dow average lost 528 points, or 3.3 percent, to 15,486 as of 12:50 p.m. Eastern time. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 61 points, or 3.2 percent, to 1,820. The Nasdaq composite index sank 140 points, or 3.1 percent, to 4,337. The Dow and S&P 500 are down 11 percent so far in January; the Nasdaq is down 13 percent. The losses were widespread; 98 percent of the stocks in the S&P 500 index were in the red.
OIL DOWN AGAIN: Oil prices had already fallen to 12-year lows this week, and the price of U.S. crude has dropped 29 percent so far this year. Benchmark U.S. crude gave up $1.94, or 6.85 percent, to $26.52 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, lost $1.45, or 5 percent, to $27.31 a barrel in London. Heating oil prices also sank 5.5 percent to 86 cents a gallon.
OIL GLUT: James Liu, global market strategist for JPMorgan Funds, said the global economy remains relatively healthy and demand for oil hasn’t fallen off. But production remains too high, so tremendous stockpiles have accumulated. While companies started shutting down drilling rigs in late 2014 after prices started to decline, production of oil didn’t change much.
“We’re starting to see production declines basically two years after rig count started to decline,” Liu said. He said production will keep falling and oil prices will stabilize in the middle of 2016, then start rising.
ENERGY KEEPS FALLING: Energy stocks were pelted. Devon Energy lost $3.46, or 14.7 percent, to $20.02 and Murphy Oil fell $1.76, or 10.7 percent, to $14.62. Chevron sank $5.39, or 6.6 percent, to $76.12, the biggest loss in the Dow average. Financial stocks were also getting hit because banks could lose billions on loans to oil and gas companies. Bank of America lost 83 cents, or 5.8 percent, to $13.41
BIG BLUES: Commercial tech giant IBM said its revenue fell for the 15th consecutive quarter. Sales fell about $170 million short of Wall Street forecasts. The stock shed $6.38, or 5 percent, to $121.73.
HOUSING SLUMP: Homebuilders fell after the Commerce Department said housing starts decreased in December. Still, residential construction ended 2015 at its healthiest level in eight years. Beazer Homes sank $1.15, or 13.3 percent, to $7.47 and KB Home fell 72 cents, or 7.3 percent, to $9.15.
IMF OUTLOOK: The International Monetary Fund cut its forecast for this year’s global economic growth to 3.4 percent from its October outlook of 3.6 percent. The IMF downgraded the outlook for developing economies to 4.3 percent growth from 4.5 percent in October.
SPIRIT RISES: Spirit Airlines said its profit margins will be stronger than expected and costs for aircraft rent, maintenance and other items will be smaller. Its shares gained $1.32, or 3.5 percent, to $39.22. The plunge in energy prices has also helped airlines save money on jet fuel.
PUMPED UP: Nutritional supplement retailer GNC Holdings said its adjusted profit for 2015 will be at the high end of its previous estimates. Its stock rose 85 cents, or 3.6 percent, to $24.41.
NETFLIX QUEUES UP LOSSES: Netflix posted stronger-than-expected international growth and had about 75 million subscribers at the end of the fourth quarter. Still, its shares fell more than the rest of the market. The streaming video provider’s shares more than doubled in value last year and they were best performing stock on the S&P 500. On Wednesday they fell $6.49, or 6 percent, to $101.40.
ZAFGEN SURGES: Drug developer Zafgen climbed after the company said its most advanced experimental drug succeeded in a late-stage clinical trial. The trial evaluated beloranib as a treatment for a rare genetic disorder that causes life-threatening obesity. Its stock jumped $3.57, or 63.5 percent, to $9.19.
BONDS: U.S. government bond prices rose as traders shifted money into lower-risk investments. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note dropped to 1.96 percent, its lowest level since last April, from 2.06 percent a day earlier. That yield, which is a benchmark for setting interest rates on home mortgages and other kinds of loans, has fallen sharply since the beginning of the year. At the end of 2015 it stood at 2.30 percent.
METALS: The price of gold rose $14.70, or 1.3 percent, to $1,103.80. While gold is far below its prices from the financial crisis, it’s up 4 percent in 2016. The price of silver was unchanged, and is up 2 percent for the year. Copper slipped 2 cents to $1.96 a pound and is down 8 percent for the year.
OVERSEAS: Japan’s Nikkei fell 3.7 percent and is down more than 20 percent from its June peak. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng retreated 3.8 percent. The Shanghai Composite Index lost 1 percent. In Europe, Germany’s DAX tumbled 2.8 percent and France’s CAC-40 shed 3.5 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 sank 3.5 percent.
CURRENCIES: The dollar fell to ¥116.41 from ¥117.44 late Tuesday. The euro fell to $1.0908 from $1.0923.