Another drop in energy stocks leads market lower

The latest downturn in crude oil prices put investors in a selling mood Wednesday, pulling U.S. stocks lower for the second time this week.

The market decline, which wiped out some of the gains from a rally the day before, came on lighter-than-usual trading ahead of the New Year's Day holiday.

Energy companies fell the most among the 10 sectors in the Standard & Poor's 500 index, 1.5 percent. The sector is down 23.8 percent for the year. Southwestern Energy fell 6.8 percent, while Consol Energy sank 5.6 percent.

The price of oil shed 3.4 percent on Wednesday, extending its losses for the year to nearly 40 percent.

"You have oil prices affecting the market negatively today," said Quincy Krosby, market strategist for Prudential Financial. "You throw in exceedingly low volume and it's a recipe for skewing the market, in this case to the downside."

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 117.11 points, or 0.7 percent, to 17,603.87. The S&P 500 index dropped 15 points, or 0.7 percent, to 2,063.36. The Nasdaq composite lost 42.09 points, or 0.8 percent, to 5,065.85.

The day's market action cut into the S&P 500's slim gain for the year. The index remains essentially flat with an increase of 0.2 percent this year. The Nasdaq is up about 7 percent, while the Dow is on track to end 2015 with a loss of 1.2 percent.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell $1.27 to close at $36.60 a barrel in New York. It's down 39 percent this year. Brent crude, which is used to price international oils, slid $1.33, or 3.5 percent, to close at $36.46 a barrel in London.

Several energy companies closed lower, including Noble Energy, which fell $1.18, or 3.5 percent, to $32.22, and Southwestern Energy, which tumbled 46 cents, or 6.8 percent, to $6.30.

Consol Energy shed 46 cents, or 5.6 percent, to $7.78. Natural gas company Chesapeake Energy fell 18 cents, or 3.9 percent, to $4.40.

In other energy trading in New York, wholesale gasoline fell 5 cents, or 3.6 percent, to $1.23 a gallon, while heating oil declined 5 cents, or 4.5 percent, to $1.079 a gallon. Natural gas slumped 15.6 cents to $2.214 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In Europe, trading volumes were low on the last full day of the year ahead of the New Year's holiday. Many European markets will be open only for a half-day on Dec. 31. Germany's DAX fell 1.1 percent, while France's CAC 40 lost 0.5 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 slipped 0.6 percent.

Precious and industrial metals prices ended mixed. Gold lost $8.20 to $1,059.80 an ounce, silver fell 9 cents to $13.84 an ounce and copper gained 1 cent to $2.15 a pound.

Bond prices edged higher. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.29 percent.

In currencies, the dollar rose to 120.55 yen from 120.39 yen late Tuesday. The euro slipped to $1.0924 from $1.0939.