Last updated: April 3, 2013 9:30 pm

Employment data weigh on Wall Street

General Views Of Trading At The NYSE©Bloomberg

US stocks retreated from record levels on Wednesday as a worse-than-expected private sector jobs market report provided the impetus for investors to take some profits after recent gains.

The S&P 500 lost 1.1 per cent to 1,553.69, registering its worst session since February and moving away from its all-time closing high set a day earlier.

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The losses came as investors reacted to the latest reading of the ADP private sector payrolls report which said the economy added 158,000 jobs in March, well below analysts’ forecasts.

The figures, which included a revision upwards to February’s reading, failed to bolster bulls who were searching for further impetus to bid stocks higher ahead of the labour department’s non-farm payrolls report on Friday.

“Private payrolls came in slightly below expectations but the upward revision to the prior month leaves this about as expected,” said Steven Ricchiuto, chief economist at Mizuho Securities.

He added: “Not that this is a good measure of the actual payroll report but the ADP will keep the bulls from boosting their payroll estimates between now and Friday.”

Late in the day’s trade, comments by the president of the San Franciscio Federal Reserve that the US central bank could taper its massive bond-buying program this summer added to the negative mood among traders.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 0.8 per cent to 14,550.35. The Nasdaq Composite index fell 1.1 per cent to 3,218.60.

Jim Paulsen, chief market strategist at Wells Fargo, said: “Traders [currently] have itchy fingers after the recent highs and are looking for reasons to sell.”

All 10 major industry groups on the benchmark traded in negative territory with energy and financial stocks seeing the steepest falls.

Oil refiners were among the biggest decliners on the day as shares in Marathon Petroleum dropped 4.8 per cent to $81.39.

Analysts said that some of the weakness among companies in the sector was due to a softening in the crack spread, the profit margin from refining crude oil into petroleum products.

Companies in the sector, which rose strongly during the first quarter of the year, are expected to see costs rise as US environmental regulators seek new standards to limit the sulphur content of petrol sold in the US.

Valero Energy , the largest independent US refiner, lost 4.3 per cent to $40.60 after it said earlier this week that compliance with the new standards would cost the company between $300m and $400m alone.

Refiners Tesoro Corp fell 5 per cent to $52.26 and Phillips 66 declined 6.6 per cent to $62.46.

Agricultural products company Monsanto beat analysts’ forecasts for its latest quarter. Shares in the company gained 0.9 per cent to $104.87 as it said earnings jumped 22 per cent in the three months to the end of February on demand from Latin America for its genetically modified seeds.

ConAgra , the maker of Hunt’s ketchup, lost 1.9 per cent to $34.85 after it said its quarterly profits shrank due to costs associated with the $5bn acquisition of Ralcorp, another consumer foods company.

Large US financial institutions also fell on the day, with shares in Bank of America losing 2.8 per cent to $11.81 and JPMorgan Chase dropping 2.4 per cent to $46.85.

Cisco Systems rose 0.1 per cent to $21.20 as the network equipment company said it would acquire Ubiquisys, a provider of mobile technology, for $310m.

Netflix pared some of its losses on the day as Carl Icahn, the activist investor, said on CNBC that he had not sold any part of his stake in the home DVD delivery and internet streaming company. Shares in the company fell 3.9 per cent to $169.74 on the day.

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