End-of-quarter selling and growing uneasiness about the economy sent stocks sliding Tuesday, with Caterpillar Inc. and other industrials depressing blue chips and technology issues dragging the Nasdaq composite index to a five-month low.
Analysts blamed the selling on portfolio managers looking to unload poor performing stocks before the end of the quarter Thursday. Investors were also nervously awaiting two key economic reports due on Friday, including the Labor Department’s March employment figures and the Institute for Supply Management’s monthly report on the industrial sector.
Investors discounted the latest reading of the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index, which showed a larger-than-expected drop in confidence for March.
The index reading came in at 102.4, less than the 103 forecast from Wall Street and the 104 reading in February.
“To some extent, we can expect to be pretty trendless until Friday,” said Hugh Johnson, chairman and chief investment officer of Johnson Illington Advisors.
“There’s nervousness, you have people tip-toeing around, and nobody’s really getting into the market in any meaningful way.”
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 79.95, or 0.76 percent, to 10,405.70, its lowest close since Jan. 24.
Broader stock indicators also gave ground. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was down 8.92, or 0.76 percent, at 1,165.36, also the worst showing since Jan. 24. The Nasdaq composite index lost 18.64, or 0.94 percent, to 1,973.88, the worst close for the index since Oct. 27.
The Nasdaq’s drop was on par with the other major indexes, with no real standouts leading the losses, but the new five-month low illustrates how far the technology and small-cap-oriented index has fallen out of favor with investors.
Declining issues outnumbered advancers by more than 5 to 2 on the New York Stock Exchange, where preliminary consolidated volume came to 2.22 billion shares, compared with 1.72 billion traded on Monday.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies was down 10.49, or 1.71 percent, at 604.63.
Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average tumbled 1.63 percent. In Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 closed down 0.07 percent, France’s CAC-40 climbed 0.08 percent for the session, and Germany’s DAX index rose 0.19 percent.