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MARKET SNAPSHOT: U.S. Stocks End Lower As Financials Sell Off

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03/20/2017 | 09:32pm CEST

By Victor Reklaitis and Anora Mahmudova, MarketWatch

Drop in oil prices weighs on energy shares

The main U.S. stock indexes closed marginally lower Monday for the third straight day of losses, as investors were reluctant to make big bets without major economic or corporate news.

In early trade, the Nasdaq Composite set an intraday all-time high, but settled within a few points of its previous closing record set earlier this month.

The S&P 500 index closed off 4.8 points, or 0.2%, at 2,373.45, with seven of the 11 main sectors finishing in negative territory. Financials were the biggest decliners, putting pressure on the main index. Meanwhile energy stocks tracked volatile oil prices, ending slightly lower as crude-oil prices recovered some of the sharp losses.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended 8.76 points, or less than 0.1%, lower at 20,905.86, with two-thirds of the blue-chip companies closing in positive territory. Caterpillar Inc.(>> Caterpillar Inc.) and Nike Inc.(>> Nike Inc) led the gains, closing up 2.7% and 1.5%, respectively while Home Depot Inc.(>> Home Depot Inc) and Visa Inc.(V) were the top decliners, each losing 1.2%.

Meanwhile, the Nasdaq Composite Index set an intraday high at 5,915.12 in early trade, but finished virtually unchanged at 5,901.53.

"At this stage, sideways or a move lower on the S&P 500 would make sense and perhaps that's what we are seeing after gains in February," said Michael Antonelli, equity sales trader at Robert W. Baird & Co.

Market reaction to comments from Charles Evans, president of Chicago Federal Reserve, were muted.

In an interview with Fox Business, Evans said he would support three rate hikes in total this year if economic improvement persists, and four increases if inflation accelerates above the central bank's 2% target.

His comments came after the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee on Wednesday raised benchmark interest rates for the first time in 2017.

Some analysts suggested that investors are in a wait-and-see mode amid political uncertainty about new regulations.

"This is what we call a classic 'backing and filling' in the market. Investors may be somewhat clear about the monetary policy but now are waiting to see what happens legislatively," said Maris Ogg, president at Tower Bridge Advisors.

Ogg is optimistic about earnings over the next couple of years.

"We have one of the most business-friendly administrations, which we expect to spur capital spending by companies, leading to better earnings growth," she said.

Other markets: Oil futures fell Monday, as some analysts blamed the drop on global growth worries after G-20 officials removed anti-protectionist language from a policy statement.

European equities lost ground, while Asian markets were mixed. Gold futures stepped higher, and a key dollar index was flat. The 10-year Treasury yield fell to 2.47%.

Economic news: Chicago's Evans in an interview on the Fox Business cable channel said that he expected the U.S. economy grow at a 2.25% pace this year. He also suggested that if the economy continues to grow as expected and inflation flares up, he would support four rate hikes this year.

Stock movers: Energy shares were among the top decliners on the S&P 500. Transocean Ltd.(>> Transocean LTD) and Chesapeake Energy Corp.(>> Chesapeake Energy Corporation) were down 2%.

Shares of Tiffany & Co. (>> Tiffany & Co.) rose 1.5% after analysts at William Blair upgraded the stock.

Walt Disney Co. (>> Walt Disney Co) shares gained 0.9% after "Beauty and the Beast" topped box-office ticket sales over the weekend.

U.S.-listed shares for Deutsche Bank AG(>> Deutsche Bank AG) (>> Deutsche Bank AG) closed 3.7% lower after the German lender issued new shares to raise nearly $9 billion. The bank also indicated that it slashed bonuses paid to staff by 80% last year after suffering its second consecutive full-year loss.

Shares of Caterpillar Inc. (>> Caterpillar Inc.) were up 2.7% after the industrial-equipment maker reported encouraging February retail machine-sales data .

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