Dow slumps below 15,000

US stocks have headed south yet again, as caution rules before the release of minutes from the last FOMC meeting.

By early afternoon in New York, the Dow had lost 0.3%, dipping below the psychologically-significant 15,000 level to stand at 14,957. The Dow has not finished below 15,000 since the beginning of July, but has had a terrible August, setting a high right at the start of the month before plunging almost 700 points.

The minutes from the Fed’s last policy meeting will be released at 7pm BST, and could contain clues as to how the FOMC is thinking in regard to tapering next month. The policy statement issued after the last meeting contained no detail at all about the potential timing or magnitude of tapering, so any insight in these areas has the potential to significantly move the market.

A report released today by the National Association of Realtors showed that existing home sales rose 6.5% in July, climbing to an annualised, seasonally-adjusted pace of 5.39 million. This was stronger than had been expected, with a survey of analysts conducted by Reuters showing a consensus estimate of 5.15 million beforehand.

There was another kink in the path for retailers today. Shares in the sector generally performed well yesterday, after strong results from Best Buy and Urban Outfitters, but Staples and Target both disappointed with their latest reports. Target beat expectations on the earnings front, but missed on revenue and also issued downbeat full-year guidance. Staples, meanwhile, missed estimates with both earnings and sales.

Despite yesterday’s fillip, things are looking a little pessimistic for retailers at the moment, based on the various warnings about full-year sales, and this raises questions more broadly about consumer spending, which is an important driver of the US economy.

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