NEW YORK — A reminder that the U.S. economy still remains a long way from being fully healed after the Great Recession put the brakes on a January rally that has pushed stocks close to record levels. The Standard & Poor’s 500 logged its biggest drop of the year.
Stocks started the day lower after a report showed the U.S. economy unexpectedly contracted in the fourth quarter. That decline extended after the Federal Reserve said it would continue its bond-buying program to boost growth.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 44 points, or 0.3 percent, to close at 13,910.42, logging only its second decline in nine days. The Standard & Poor’s 500 fell 6 points, or 0.4 percent, to 1,501.96, its biggest decline since Dec. 28. The Nasdaq composite fell 11 points to 3,142.31.
The U.S. economy shrank from October through December for the first time since the recession ended, hurt by the biggest cut in defense spending in 40 years, fewer exports and sluggish growth in company stockpiles, the Commerce Department said Wednesday.
The Fed acknowledged the economy is still struggling to regain momentum, in a statement it released Wednesday afternoon following its two-day meeting, saying growth had “paused in recent months.” The central bank took no new action and said it would keep buying $85 billion of bonds a month as part of its plan to keep borrowing costs low to spur growth.
“The Fed didn’t really say anything out of the ordinary, so you got the reaction you should’ve had in the morning,” said Joe Saluzzi a co-founder at brokerage firm Themis Trading. “When you’ve spent this much money trying to prop up an economy and you still come up with a negative print, that’s bad news.”
U.S. gross domestic product, the volume of all goods and services produced, contracted at an annual rate of 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter. That’s a sharp slowdown from the 3.1 percent growth rate in the July-September quarter.
“To ignore this is folly,” said Doug Cote, chief market strategist at ING Investment Management. “Certainly, this market could continue to move forward, but ignoring the fundamentals is not something I’d counsel my clients to do.”