NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks closed sharply lower on Thursday after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke gave no indications of new stimulus measures to boost the flagging economy in a keenly awaited speech.
Investors have been looking to Bernanke, who gave his outlook on the U.S. economy on Thursday, and other policymakers to address a host of concerns from slowing global growth to Europe’s debt crisis.
A rise in jobless claims reported earlier in the day underscored the weakness in the U.S. economy and came ahead of a speech by President Barack Obama. Obama is due to speak at 7 p.m. and is expected lay out a plan for creating jobs.
“The Fed hasn’t come out with more options or tools that the market wants or was expecting,” said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer of Solaris Asset Management in Bedford Hills, New York. “The market was disappointed because this wasn’t a game changer.”
Banks were the biggest decliners after sharp gains on Wednesday. They have been one of the most turbulent sectors in the volatility that has engulfed equity markets this summer. The KBW Bank Index .BKX fell nearly 3 percent.
The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI dropped 119.05 points, or 1.04 percent, to 11,295.81. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX fell 12.72 points, or 1.06 percent, to 1,185.90. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC lost 19.80 points, or 0.78 percent, to 2,529.14.
Among bank shares, JPMorgan (JPM.N) fell 3.8 percent to $33.51, the biggest decliner on the Dow. Bank of America Corp (BAC.N) fell 3.7 percent to $7.20. The S&P 500 financial sector index .GSPF lost 2.3 percent.
The VIX volatility index .VIX, a measure of expected market turbulence, rose 2.8 percent to 34.32. Although down from levels seen in August, it is still elevated compared with early in the year.
Volume on the NYSE, the Nasdaq and Amex was 7.46 billion shares, 13 percent below the 20-day moving average, a sign that participation is weakening after the high volume sell-off in August. About 76 percent of NYSE shares fell.
The current market conditions mean that short-term views are dominating and company fundamentals are taking a back seat.
“All of a sudden everybody is a trader, now, nobody is an investor,” said Sam Ginzburg, a senior trader at First New York Securities. “Everything is trading macro, everything is trading on psychology, and everybody is staring at charts.”
Stocks of health insurers fell The Morgan Stanley Healthcare payor index .HMO fell 2.4 percent, while Aetna Inc AET.N fell 1.9 percent to $39.19.
A U.S. appeals court on Thursday overturned a lower court ruling that the federal government could not compel people to buy health insurance or face paying a penalty. The appeals court ruled only that Virginia did not have standing to challenge the federal law. It did not rule on whether the mandate itself was constitutional.
The S&P 500 struggled to hold up the 1,200 mark although it broke above that level earlier in the day, which could mark a significant resistance level for the market.
On the upside, Yahoo shares YHOO.O rose 6.1 percent to $14.44 after a top shareholder, Third Point LLC, demanded that Yahoo overhaul its board of directors.
Shares of SanDisk Corp SNDK.O , a flash memory maker, jumped 2.4 percent to $38.52.
Separately, the government said the U.S. trade deficit narrowed considerably in July, a positive signal for economic growth in the third quarter after a sluggish first half.
Reporting by Edward Krudy; Editing by Leslie Adler