The price of crude oil jumped to a new record high today, and interest rates rose in anticipation of Tuesday's Federal Reserve Board meeting, giving traders two reasons for not buying stocks.
Crude topped $63 a barrel for the first time ever and traded for as much as $63.99 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Pulling back slightly late in the day, crude oil to be delivered next month closed at $63.94, up $1.63 for the day.
Traders blamed the latest spike in oil prices on instability in the Middle East following the death of Saudi Arabia's King Fahd and on the extremely tight supply of oil. There is so little excess oil available in the world that prices rose after a minor refinery fire in Pennsylvania. Traders warned that if another hurricane disrupts production in the Gulf of Mexico, prices will spike even higher.
A few months back -- when oil first topped $50 a barrel -- economists predicted that economic activity would slow if the price topped $60. So far there's been no major slowdown -- summer vacation travel is at record levels -- but energy experts warn that at some point, oil prices will pinch off growth.
Likewise, economists have been warning that growth will be slowed by the Federal Reserve's methodical increases in interest rates. That hasn't occurred yet either, but Wall Street thinks it will happen, so the market regularly slumps in anticipation of the next round of rate hikes.
Wall Street figures there is virtually no chance the Fed will not raise rates tomorrow, so today rates on government bonds rose in anticipation. The benchmark 10-year Treasury bond now yields 4.41 percent.
Both energy prices and interest rates act like an unavoidable tax on consumer budgets, making both a threat to the stock market.
Today's stock losses were not as severe as Friday's, but they stretched the losing streak to four days for the Nasdaq Stock Market composite index and to three straight days for the Dow Jones industrial average and the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index.
The Nasdaq composite fell almost 14 points to 2,164.39.
The Dow dropped 21 points to 10,536.93.
The S&P 500 lost three points, closing at 1,223.13.