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Wall Street drops 1 percent as health stocks weigh; Nasdaq erases 2018 gains



(Reuters) – Wall Street slid 1 percent on Monday, led by healthcare stocks after a federal ruling that Obamacare was unconstitutional, with the decline in the market-leading sector further unnerving investors already concerned about slowing global growth.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., December 14, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

The latest slide erased the Nasdaq’s slim gains for the year, with the U.S. markets experiencing their worst December performance in over 80 years. The Dow Industrials ended Friday 10 percent below its record closing high to join the S&P 500 and Nasdaq in what is known as correction territory.

A host of health insurers and hospital operators fell on Monday after a federal judge on Friday ruled that the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, was unconstitutional based on its mandate requiring people buy health insurance.

The S&P healthcare index dropped 1.53 percent to cede its position as the best performing S&P sector this year to the defensive utilities index, which was off 0.48 percent on Monday.

In fact, all the 11 major sectors were lower, with the smallest declines being logged in the real estate and consumer staples indexes, also considered defensive along with utilities.

“We took a big hit on Friday, and what we’re seeing now is an uncertain market,” said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Spartan Capital Securities in New York.

Financial companies dropped 0.77 percent ahead of a widely expected interest rate increase at the Federal Reserve’s Tuesday-Wednesday monetary policy meeting.

But investors are hoping the central bank may ease up on hikes next year amid rising worries of slowing global growth and President Donald Trump on Monday again criticized the Fed for “even considering” a rate hike.

At 9:55 a.m. ET the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 262.53 points, or 1.09 percent, at 23,837.98, the S&P 500 was down 28.54 points, or 1.10 percent, at 2,571.41 and the Nasdaq Composite was down 90.92 points, or 1.32 percent, at 6,819.75.

Insurer UnitedHealth Group Inc fell 2.14 percent and was the biggest drag on the Dow. Johnson & Johnson continued its slide with a 2.2-percent drop in the wake of a Reuters report that the pharma major knew for decades that its Baby Powder contained asbestos.

Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs Group Inc fell 2.6 percent after Malaysia filed criminal charges against the bank and two former employees in connection with the 1MDB investigation.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 3.38-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and a 2.87-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded one new 52-week high and 89 new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded four new highs and 294 new lows.

Reporting by Amy Caren Daniel in Bengaluru