June 12, 2019 / 7:28 PM / 6 days ago

US STOCKS-Wall St eases; banks fall with prospect of rate cut, energy drops

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* U.S. consumer prices barely rise in May

* Bank shares fall as prospects of rate cut rise

* Indexes off: Dow 0.2%, S&P 0.2%, Nasdaq 0.4% (Updates to late afternoon)

By Caroline Valetkevitch

NEW YORK, June 12 (Reuters) - Wall Street eased on Wednesday, with bank stocks declining as prospects of a U.S. interest rate cut rose and energy shares tumbling along with oil prices.

The S&P 500 energy index slid 1.4%, the most among the 11 S&P sectors, as crude prices fell 4% to settle at $51.14 a barrel. The day’s losses made energy the worst-performing S&P 500 sector for the year-to-date.

A report from the Labor Department showed U.S. consumer prices rose 0.1% in May, in line with expectations of economists polled by Reuters, pointing to moderate inflation. The muted reading on inflation backed the case for a rate cut by the Federal Reserve.

Banking stocks, which tend to benefit from a higher interest rate environment, dropped 1.2%. The broader financial sector fell 0.8%.

Even so, hopes that the Fed will act to counter a slowing global economy due to the escalating trade war with China have spurred a rally in stocks this month. The S&P 500 index is up 4.6% so far in June.

Fed policymakers will meet on June 18-19. Markets have priced in at least two rate cuts by the end of 2019. Fed fund futures imply around an 80% chance of an easing in rates as soon as July.

Investors are reducing exposure to stocks after the recent rally and as they brace for the Fed meeting.

“People don’t want to be too far over their skis going into next week,” said Michael James, managing director of equity trading at Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 45.67 points, or 0.18%, to 26,002.84, the S&P 500 lost 5.68 points, or 0.20%, to 2,880.04 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 29.73 points, or 0.38%, to 7,792.83.

Lingering worries on the trade front weighed on sentiment, a day after President Donald Trump said he was holding up a deal with China and had no interest in moving ahead unless Beijing agrees to four or five major points.

With less than three weeks before proposed talks between the United States and Chinese leaders, sources say there has been little preparation for a meeting even though the health of the world economy is at stake.

Trump also said a potential trade deal could be reached with China, but again threatened to increase tariffs on Chinese goods if the world’s two largest economies do not make a deal.

Semiconductor stocks, which get a sizeable portion of revenue from China, declined on Wednesday. The Philadelphia Semiconductor index dropped 2.3%. Micron Technology Inc , Applied Materials Inc and Lam Research Corp fell.

Facebook Inc shares declined 2% after the Wall Street Journal reported that the social media giant uncovered emails that appear to show Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg’s connection to potentially problematic privacy practices at the company.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.14-to-1 ratio

The S&P 500 posted 23 new 52-week highs and two new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 37 new highs and 95 new lows. (Reporting by Caroline Valetkevitch Additional reporting by Shreyashi Sanyal and Aparajita Saxena in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur and Leslie Adler)

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