US stocks indexes end lower as traders do some end-of-quarter profit-taking, portfolio pruning

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FILE - In this Oct. 2, 2014 file photo, people pass a Wall Street subway stop, in New York's Financial District. U.S. stocks moved lower in early trading Tuesday, March 31, 2015, erasing some gains from the day before. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)


FILE - This July 16, 2013 file photo shows a Wall Street street sign outside the New York Stock Exchange in New York. U.S. stocks are starting the week sharply higher Monday, March 30, 2015, led by energy companies. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)


The stock market closed out the first three months of the year Tuesday on a down note, erasing much of the gains from the prior day's big rally.

The Dow Jones industrial average slumped 200 points, knocking the blue chip index slightly lower for the year. The Standard & Poor's 500 index ended the quarter with a meager gain of half a percent.

The broad decline came as traders seized on the final day of the quarter to do some profit-taking and prune their portfolios. Health care stocks were among the biggest decliners. Oil prices extended their slide.

"It's the end of the quarter," said Anwiti Bahuguna, senior portfolio manager at Columbia Threadneedle Investments. "Today the markets are probably driven by that quite a bit, because people are rebalancing their portfolios."

The Dow fell 200.19 points, or 1.1 percent, to 17,776.12. The 30-company index was down as much as 203 points. It's now down 0.3 percent for the year.

The S&P 500 index slid 18.35 points, or 0.9 percent, to 2,067.89. The index is now up 0.4 percent for the year. The Nasdaq composite lost 46.56 points, or 0.9 percent, to 4,900.88. The tech-heavy index ended the quarter up 3.5 percent.

Traders often look to close out positions to make their books look as healthy as possible at the end of a quarter.

Other factors also contributed to the stepped-up selling on Tuesday.

"There's also rising concern about oil prices, especially as the U.S. gets closer to a deal with Iran," said Paul Christopher, head of international strategy at the Wells Fargo Investment Institute. "There's some speculation that Iran will be able to release a lot of oil into the world."

That could stoke fears of deflation, which can hurt corporate profits, he added.

The price of oil fell Tuesday as talks between the U.S. and Iran progressed somewhat, which could lead to more crude on the global market in the coming months.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell $1.08 to close at $47.60 a barrel in New York. Oil finished down $2.16, or 4.3 percent, for the month. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell $1.18 to close at $55.11 in London.

The major stock indexes' anemic quarterly performance reflects lowered investor expectations for corporate earnings due to concerns over the impact falling oil prices and a strong dollar may have on big companies.

"It's a pretty weak start for the S&P 500 because the market is pricing the very sharp decline in earnings that has been coming through the entire quarter," Bahuguna said.

Companies will begin reporting financial results for the first three months of the year next week. Earnings for companies in the S&P 500 index are expected to be down 3 percent overall, according to S&P Capital IQ.

Investors are monitoring economic data for clues about how earnings will unfold.

On Tuesday, they got a dash of encouraging data.

The Conference Board said its consumer confidence index rose to 101.3 in March from revised 98.8 reading in February. The index reflects a pickup in hiring and suggests more consumer spending ahead. Separately, Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller said home prices increased in January.

The market opened lower on Tuesday and stayed in the red the rest of the day.

All 10 sectors in the S&P 500 ended lower. Health care stocks led the decline, falling 1.5 percent. The sector is still up 6.2 percent for the year. Celgene notched the biggest decline in the S&P 500. Its shares fell $4.74, or 4 percent, to $115.28.

U.S. government bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note slipped to 1.92 percent from 1.95 percent late Monday.

In metals trading, gold fell $1.70 to $1,183.10 an ounce, silver fell eight cents to $16.60 an ounce and copper fell four cents to $2.74 a pound.

In other futures trading on the NYMEX:

— Wholesale gasoline fell 2.1 cents to close at $1.780 a gallon.

— Heating oil fell 1.3 cents to close at $1.718 a gallon.

— Natural gas fell 0.4 cents to close at $2.640 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Among other stocks making big moves Tuesday:

— Synta Pharmaceuticals tumbled 16.7 percent after the biotechnology company priced a public offering of 22 million shares below the prior day's closing price. The stock shed 39 cents to $1.94.

— Shares in Charter Communications jumped 5.3 percent on news the company has agreed to buy fellow cable operator Bright House Networks in a deal valued at $10.4 billion. Charter added $9.72 to $193.11.

— Movado Group surged 11.3 percent after the luxury watch maker reported better-than-expected fourth-quarter profit and raised its quarterly dividend by 10 percent. The stock gained $2.89 to $28.52.

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