July 28, 2020 / 8:02 PM / 16 days ago

US STOCKS--Wall St pauses as pandemic hurts consumer confidence and earnings; stimulus underwhelms

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By Sinéad Carew

July 28 (Reuters) - Wall Street closed lower on Tuesday as investors fretted about weakening consumer confidence, disappointing financial results and a smaller than hoped for coronavirus aid plan from U.S. Senate Republicans.

Weighing down the Dow were industrial conglomerate 3M Co after it reported a second-quarter plunge in demand across its businesses and McDonald's Corp after a surprisingly big drop in global same-store sales.

Data released in the morning showed U.S. consumer confidence ebbed in July as coronavirus infections flared up across the country.

As they waited on a stimulus package and for quarterly reports in one of the busiest weeks in earnings season, investors were also anticipating the U.S. Federal Reserve's Wednesday wrap-up of its two day policy meeting.

"It's probably not a bad place to take some profits and rebuild some liquidity because any of those three events could lead to volatility," said Sameer Samana, Senior Global Market Strategist at Wells Fargo Investment Institute in St. Louis.

Samana said "its going to be very hard for the Fed to surprise on the positive side."

Florida reported a record one-day rise in coronavirus deaths, and cases in Texas passed the 400,000 mark, stoking fears the United States was losing control of the outbreak.

But Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia called the consumer survey "unsettling" evidence that "individuals are increasingly concerned about the recent surge in coronavirus impacting their finances and their mobility."

Feeding the fears, members of congress were sparring over a $1 trillion aid proposal from Senate Republicans announced on Monday, four days before millions of Americans lose unemployment benefits.

"There has be tremendous compromise from both parties to get to some agreement," he said, noting a congressional recess scheduled for August adds deadline pressure.

"It's particularly critical at this time since the market is really feeding off the largess that's been expended by fiscal and monetary authorities," he said.

Unofficially, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 205.21 points, or 0.77%, to 26,379.56, the S&P 500 lost 20.87 points, or 0.64%, to 3,218.54 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 134.18 points, or 1.27%, to 10,402.09.

Materials and Energy were the biggest percentage decliners of the S&P's 11 major sectors. Defensive real estate and utilities sectors were the biggest gainers.

The Fed was expected to reiterate its accommodative stance after its meeting on Wednesday afternoon. On Tuesday, it said it would extend several lending facilities through year end, a sign the pandemic's economic impact has been longer than expected.

Another focus this week is results from Wall Street's trillion-dollar market value companies - Apple Inc, Amazon.com Inc and Alphabet Inc - as well as Facebook Inc.

Of the S&P 500 companies that have reported earnings so far this quarter, about 80% surpassed significantly lowered forecasts for quarterly profit, according to Refinitiv IBES data, An average of 71% companies beat profit estimates over the past four quarters.

Pfizer Inc shares rose after it raised its full-year forecast on strong demand for cancer drugs and blood thinners. Late on Monday, the drugmaker announced a pivotal global study to evaluate a COVID-19 vaccine candidate. (Additional reporting by Devik Jain and Medha Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta, Maju Samuel and David Gregorio)

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