Most U.S. stocks slip after Brussels attack as gold, dollar rise

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Most U.S. stocks retreated as investors dived into haven assets including gold and the dollar after deadly terrorist attacks in Brussels killed at least 31 people. The Nasdaq Composite Index edged higher as drugmakers climbed.

While transport-related shares led the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index lower, the benchmark’s losses were eased somewhat by advances in health-care and technology companies. The pound slid amid speculation the explosions at a Brussels airport departure hall and a downtown subway station may boost the case for Britain to leave the European Union. Gold advanced for the first time in four days and yields on 10-year German bunds touched their lowest level in almost two weeks. Treasuries fell as Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago chief Charles Evans called U.S. economic fundamentals “really quite good.”

Two bombs went off in rapid succession at the Belgian airport and an explosion an hour later hit a subway station a short walk from the EU’s headquarters. The strikes, which follow terror attacks in Paris in November and a suicide bombing in Istanbul March 19, may add to security concerns in Europe as officials deal with an influx of migrants. Terrorist incidents including the one in the French capital as well as the London bombings in 2005 spurred equity selloffs that were erased in the following days and weeks.

“The market appears to be more resilient than you’d expect after a terrorist attack,” said Michael Antonelli, an institutional equity sales trader and managing director at Robert W. Baird & Co. in Milwaukee. “We’re still in the negative, but I’m shocked we’re not down more. When you wake up to this news, it’s definitely going to put a damper on market sentiment.” 

Stocks

The S&P 500 fell 0.1 percent to 2,049.80 as of 4 p.m. in New York, with the gauge still trading near its highest level of the year. Transportation stocks posted the biggest decline out of 24 groups, with Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Carnival Corp. losing at least 2.1 percent. Biotechnology and technology hardware companies, such as Apple Inc., Amgen Inc. and Abbvie Inc., contributed the most to gains in the benchmark measure Tuesday.

The Nasdaq Composite Index rose 0.3 percent in its fifth straight gain to cap its longest advance in 11 months.

Activity was light again in this holiday-shortened week after Monday marked the lowest U.S. volumes this year. Trading on U.S. exchange listed shares was 26 percent below the three month average. That follows two of 2016’s slowest sessions last Monday and Tuesday before Fed’s March meeting. U.S. stock markets will be closed for a holiday Friday.

European shares recovered most of their intraday losses by the close. The Stoxx Europe 600 Index slipped 0.2 percent, after losing as much as 1.6 percent, while Belgium’s Bel20 Index wiped out losses to end 0.2 percent higher. On Nov. 16, the first day equities traded after the Paris terror attacks, France’s CAC 40 Index ended little changed.

Air France-KLM Group and hotel operator Accor SA slid. Thomas Cook Group Plc dropped 4.3 percent after also saying 2016 summer bookings have been lower than last year.

The MSCI Asia Pacific Index added 0.8 percent Tuesday amid a 1.9 percent surge in Japanese shares.

Currencies

The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index, which tracks the greenback against 10 major peers, added 0.1 percent in a third day of gains. The gauge slid 1.3 percent last week after the Fed dialed back its outlook for interest-rate increases this year. The presidents of the San Francisco and Atlanta Feds said Monday that tighter borrowing conditions could be warranted as soon as April given improvements in the U.S. economy.

The pound was the worst-performer among 16 major currencies, with Britain due to hold a referendum on European Union membership in June.

“The most negative reaction is for pound,” Athanasios Vamvakidis, head of Group-of-10 currency strategy at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in London, wrote in e-mailed comments. “Any events that could give, to some people, arguments against migrants and refugees -- such as a terrorist attack -- could increase ‘Brexit’ risks.”

The euro lost 0.2 percent to $1.1217, while the yen slipped a third day, declining 0.4 percent to 112.36 per dollar.

Bonds

Benchmark German bunds rose, while Belgian bonds were little changed. Ten-year German yields fell as much as five basis points, or 0.05 percentage point, to 0.18 percent, while the rate on Belgian debt due in a decade dropped two basis points to 0.6 percent.

Yields on similar-maturity U.S. Treasuries added three basis points to 1.94 percent, after falling to as low as 1.88 percent.

“The market is reacting to fundamentals, which are improving,” said Thomas Roth, senior Treasury trader in New York at Mitsubishi UFJ Securities USA Inc. “We were up this morning because of Brussels, but it wasn’t a huge flight to quality.”

Belgium on Tuesday night was on the highest terror alert level amid fears further assaults were in the works. Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for the assault. Salah Abdeslam, believed to be the only surviving participant of the Paris attacks that that left 130 people dead last year, faces a Brussels court on Wednesday over whether to extend a Belgian arrest warrant issued on Saturday.

Commodities

Gold rose as much as 1.3 percent in the spot market before closing up 0.3 percent at $1,247.45 an ounce.

West Texas Intermediate crude fell 0.7 percent to settle at $41.22 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, after futures climbed as much as 0.9 percent. U.S. oil stockpiles are forecast to have risen last week, keeping supplies at their highest level since 1930. Oil gained Monday after OPEC Secretary General Abdalla El-Badri said that 15 or 16 nations will attend oil-output freeze talks in Doha on April 17.

Lead paced declines in industrial metals, while zinc fell from a seven-month high. Lead for delivery in three months dropped 0.8 percent to $1,814 a metric ton on the London Metal Exchange. Aluminum declined as much as 1.2 percent, and zinc lost 0.2 percent.

Emerging Markets

The MSCI Emerging Markets Index added 0.2 percent, posting a fifth day of gains. Indexes in South Korea, India and Mexico advanced, while Turkish stocks slid 2 percent and South Africa’s benchmark declined 0.8 percent.

The Shanghai Composite Index fell 0.6 percent, ending a seven-day rally and the longest run of gains since May.

Hungary’s forint posted the biggest decline in emerging-market currencies, dropping 0.5 percent against the dollar after the nation’s central bank unexpectedly reduced its benchmark rate.

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