The price of U.S. crude oil climbed 3.1%. Investors sought safety in U.S. government bonds, sending their yields lower. The price of gold rose. Technology, financial and health care stocks accounted for much of the selling. Companies that rely on consumer spending also fell, along with airlines. Several energy stocks got a boost from higher oil prices. Defense contractors also notched gains.
The strike marks a major escalation in the conflict between Washington and Tehran, as Iran vowed “harsh retaliation" for the killing of the senior military leader. “Until now, the two big risks have been policy -- trade and the Fed,” said Jeff Kravetz, regional investment director at U.S. Bank Private Wealth Management. “This introduces a wildcard, which is a third risk: rising political tensions in the Middle East.”
The S&P 500 dropped 23 points, or 0.7%, to 3,234.85. The index ended with a 0.2% loss for the week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 233.92 points, or 0.8%, to 28,634.88. The index briefly dropped 368 points.
The Nasdaq lost 71.42 points, or 0.8%, to 9,020.77. The Russell 2000 index of smaller company stocks gave up 5.90 points, or 0.4%, to 1,660.87. The major stock indexes were coming off record highs after closing out 2019 earlier in the week with the best annual performance by the S&P 500 and Nasdaq since 2013.
Investor sentiment has been mostly positive in recent weeks as concerns about the strength of the economy and the possibility of further escalation in the U.S.-China trade war eased. Three interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve have also helped steady markets.
But the market’s relative calm ended with Friday morning’s news that the U.S. had killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, in an air attack at the Baghdad international airport. President Donald Trump said the attack was ordered because Soleimani was plotting to kill many Americans. The Pentagon took steps to reinforce the American military presence in the Middle East in preparation for reprisals from Iran.
“We'll probably see some short-term volatility, but it's doubtful that it's going to escalate to something that is a meaningful concern for investors,” Kravetz said. The heightened geopolitical risk sent oil prices higher Friday. Benchmark U.S. crude climbed $1.87, or 3.1%, to settle at $63.05 per barrel. It had been up 3.6% earlier in the day. Brent crude, used to price international oils, rose $2.35, or 3.5%, to close at $68.60 per barrel.
Energy companies made gains over concerns that a U.S.-Iran conflict could disrupt global supplies and send oil prices even higher. Occidental Petroleum rose 2.4% and Hess gained 3.1%. The surge in oil helped pull down airline stocks and drove up shares in defense contractors.
American Airlines Group dropped 5%, United Airlines Holdings slid 2.1% and Delta Air Lines lost 1.7%. Meanwhile, Northrop Grumman climbed 5.4%, Raytheon rose 1.5% and Lockheed Martin gained 3.6%. The price of gold, which investors buy in times of uncertainty as a safe haven of value, rose $24.70, or 1.6%, to $1,549.20 per ounce.
Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 1.79% from 1.88% late Thursday, a big move. Lower bond yields bring down the interest rates that banks charge for mortgages and other consumer loans, making them less profitable. That prompted a sell-off in bank shares. JPMorgan slid 1.3%, Bank of America dropped 2.1% and Citigroup lost 1.9%.
Investors bid up Lamb Weston after the frozen foods supplier's fiscal second-quarter earnings and revenue beat Wall Street analysts' forecasts. The stock was the biggest gainer in the S&P 500, vaulting 11.3%.
Tesla climbed 3% after the electric vehicle maker reported a 50% rise in deliveries for 2019. In other commodities trading, wholesale gasoline rose 5 cents to $1.75 per gallon. Heating oil climbed 4 cents to $2.06 per gallon. Natural gas rose 1 cent to $2.13 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Silver rose 10 cents to $18.07 per ounce and copper fell 3 cents to $2.80 per pound. The dollar fell to 108.01 Japanese yen from 108.55 yen on Thursday. The euro was unchanged at $1.1166. The heightened geopolitical tensions and surging oil prices also weighed on global markets Friday.
In Europe, Germany's DAX tumbled 1.2%, while Italy's FTSE MIB dropped 0.6%. Both countries are net oil importers with big manufacturing sectors. France's CAC 40 ended flat, while London's FTSE gained 0.2%.
Markets in Asia ended mixed. Hong Kong's Hang Seng lost 0.3%, while India's Sensex lost 0.5%. Australia's S&P-ASX 200 gained 0.6%. Japanese markets were closed.