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Tough start to 2019 for stocks after weak data from China

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks fell on Wall Street on Wednesday morning, the first trading day of 2019, after more shaky economic news from China.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped as much as 398 points in the first few minutes of trading, then recovered much of those losses. At 11 a.m., it was down 91 points.

That kind of up-and-down whiplash was typical during the last three months of last year.

A Chinese government survey and one by a major business magazine showed manufacturing in China weakened in December as global and domestic demand both cooled. That weighed on big exporters, with technology companies like Microsoft and industrials like Boeing taking sharp losses.

After gliding gently higher for years, propelled by rising corporate profits and extremely low interest rates from the Federal Reserve, stocks have been heaving up and down in recent months as a host of fears weigh on investors, including threats to global economic growth.

Many strategists on Wall Street expect the volatility to carry through the year.

Stocks are coming off their worst year in a decade. The benchmark S&P 500 fell 6 percent last year, its first substantial loss since 2008, and it has dropped more than 15 percent since late September. Many other stock indexes around the world fared even worse last year as traders saw signs the global economy was growing at a slower clip.

From September through the end of December, investors became more and more worried that challenges such as U.S.-China trade tensions, rising interest rates and political uncertainty could slow the economy and company profits more dramatically, and possibly tip the U.S. economy and the global one into a recession. The U.S. economy has been expanding for almost a decade, and stocks have risen steadily over that time.

Many Wall Street banks are forecasting a year of modest gains for stocks because stock prices tend to follow corporate profits over the long term. But most also say that they expect these sharp reversals to continue as investors try to handicap so many unknowns.

As of late morning, the S&P 500 index was down 14 points, or 0.6 percent, to 2,491, and the Dow was down 0.4 percent to 23,237.

Most markets were closed on Tuesday for New Years’ Day.

Prices on long-term government bonds rose, a sign investors had concerns about economic growth and were looking for safer options. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.66 percent from 2.69 percent.

Among technology companies, Microsoft gave up 1.4 percent to $100.12 and Apple fell 1.2 percent to $155.80. Industrials were also weak, with Boeing down 1.4 percent to $318.10 and 3M falling 1 percent to $188.45. Among internet stocks, Netflix shed 2.3 percent to $261.50.

After sharp losses at the start of trading, benchmark U.S. crude jumped 2.6 percent to $46.60 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, rose 2.6 percent to $55.20 per barrel in London. Oil prices fell sharply over the last three months of 2018 as investors reacted to the possibility of weaker demand for energy as economic growth slowed.

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