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Stocks close lower as Middle East tensions, Treasury yields weigh

FILE PHOTO: A trader works on the trading floor at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City

By Chuck Mikolajczak

NEW YORK (Reuters) -U.S. stocks closed sharply lower on Monday, as an early lift from a strong retail sales report succumbed to a jump in Treasury yields and concerns about rising geopolitical tensions between Iran and Israel.

With the S&P 500 coming off its biggest one-day percentage drop since Jan. 31 in the prior session, stocks opened higher in part after data showed retail sales increased by more than expected in March.

Also providing early support were gains in some financial stocks after their quarterly results, as Goldman Sachs rose 2.92% after its first-quarter profit beat Wall Street estimates, fueled by a recovery in underwriting, deals and bond trading that lifted its earnings per share to the highest since late 2021.

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M&T Bank jumped 4.74% after forecasting better-than-expected annual net interest income (NII), while brokerage Charles Schwab advanced 1.71% despite reporting a fall in quarterly profit. The stocks were the three best performers in the S&P 500 financial sector.

But gains faded over concerns the hostilities between Israel and Iran could continue to flare, and Treasury yields jumped, with the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note hitting its highest level since November.

"You saw a little bit of a bounce this morning because maybe people thought 'OK it sold off on Friday' in anticipation of something really bad happening in the Middle East," said Ken Polcari, managing partner at Kace Capital Advisors in Boca Raton, Florida.

"All the geopolitical stuff is going to cause tension and anxiety in the market, the realization that rates are not going down anytime soon has got to be finally hitting home, that's what the bond market is telling you, that rates are going to go higher."

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 248.13 points, or 0.65%, to 37,735.11, the S&P 500 lost 61.59 points, or 1.20%, to 5,061.82 and the Nasdaq Composite lost 290.07 points, or 1.79%, to 15,885.02.

The S&P 500 is now down 2.64% over the past two sessions, it's biggest two-day drop since early March 2023. The index also closed below its 50-day moving average, a technical support level, for the first time since Nov. 2.

Israel faced growing pressure from allies to show restraint and avoid an escalation of conflict in the Middle East as it considered how to respond to Iran's weekend missile and drone attack, launched after a suspected Israeli attack on its embassy.

Each of the 11 major S&P sectors were lower, with the rate-sensitive real estate and utilities sectors among the worst performers.

Stocks have struggled recently, with the S&P 500 suffering two straight weeks of declines and its biggest weekly percentage drop since October last week as investors have pushed back expectations for the timing and size of any rate cuts from the Federal Reserve.

Apple fell 2.19% as one of the biggest drags on the S&P 500 after data from research firm IDC showed the company's smartphone shipments dropped about 10% in the first quarter of 2024.

Tesla slumped 5.6% after the EV maker said it will lay off more than 10% of its global workforce, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters.

Salesforce stumbled 7.28% after Reuters reported, citing a source, that the customer relations software maker was in advanced talks to acquire Informatica.

On the NYSE, declining issues outnumbered advancing ones by a 5.1-to-1 ratio and on the Nasdaq, decliners outnumbers advancers by a 3.5-to-1 ratio.

There were 39 new highs and 138 new lows on the NYSE while on the Nasdaq, there were 37 new highs and 333 new lows.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 11.53 billion shares, compared with the 11.03 billion average for the full session over the last 20 trading days.

(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak in New YorkEditing by Matthew Lewis And Aurora Ellis)