By Alexandra Posadzki
TORONTO — North American stock markets closed sharply lower Tuesday as positive economic news fuelled concerns that an interest rate hike from the U.S. Federal Reserve could be imminent.
The S&P/TSX composite index lost 136.59 points to close at 15,050.81, while the loonie gave back 0.74 of a U.S. cent to 80.47 cents.
In New York, where trading resumed after the Memorial Day holiday on Monday, indexes also posted major declines, as traders reacted to comments from U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen late Friday.
Yellen said if the U.S. economy continues to improve, a rate hike could be on the horizon some time this year.
The Dow Jones industrial average was down 190.48 points at 18,041.54, while the Nasdaq plunged 56.61 points to 5,032.75 and the S&P 500 fell 21.86 points to 2,104.20.
Ben Jang, a portfolio manager at Vancouver-based Nicola Wealth, said traders are reacting negatively to positive economic news that has been coming out of the U.S. in recent days because it signals a greater likelihood that the Fed will raise rates.
“We’re stuck in this environment where good news turns out to be bad news,” said Jang. “So if you have comments that can be viewed as more hawkish, the market sells off because they’re concerned about interest rates rising.”
However, Jang noted that positive economic data is good news for the economy and will eventually translate into higher stock market valuations.
“It’s actually better for the markets in the long run and will help deflate potential asset bubbles,” he said.
On commodity markets, the July oil contract was fell US$1.69 to US$58.03 a barrel, while June gold lost $17.10 to US$1,186.90 an ounce and July copper gave back three cents to US$2.78 a pound.
In economic news, orders to U.S. factories for long-lasting manufactured goods slipped 0.5 per cent from March, when orders surged 5.1 per cent. But a category that reflects business investment climbed for a second month after falling 5.1 per cent in February.
U.S. consumer confidence rebounded slightly as the job market showed signs of improvement. The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index rose to 95.4 in May from 94.3 in April.
Last month’s reading had been sharp drop from 101.4 in March and while consumer assessment of current economic conditions improved, their outlook for the next six months slipped.
In corporate news, Charter Communications said it will pay US$55.33 billion to acquire Time Warner Cable in a cash-and-stock deal that would create one of the largest pay-television and broadband operators in the U.S. As part of the agreement, Charter will also buy Bright House Networks for more than US$10 billion.
Canadian banks will report their earnings this week, with the Bank of Montreal (TSX:BMO) set to go first on Wednesday.
“They’re on watch because people are concerned about top-line growth, coupled with compressed net interest margins,” said Jang.om