U.S. stocks fall on economic worries, dollar firms

Tue May 31, 2016 4:39pm EDT
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By Richard Leong

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stock prices fell on Tuesday on weaker-than-expected economic data, while expectations of a possible Federal Reserve interest rate increase lifted the dollar to near a two-month high against a basket of currencies.

The drop on Wall Street stoked safe-haven bids for gold and less riskier U.S. and German government debt. Oil futures faded into the red after rising earlier on higher expected U.S. gasoline demand for summer driving.

The S&P 500 index posted a third straight month of gains in May, but it may struggle to post further gains due to the risk of a Fed rate increase and worries about Britain's June 23 referendum on European Union membership.

"Equities will be in sideways trading going into the middle of the year with a possible rate hike and the vote in the UK," said Bill Northey, chief investment officer for U.S. Bank's private client group in Helena, Montana.

U.S. interest rate futures implied traders see a 28 percent chance the Fed would raise rates next month and a 61 percent chance it would do so at its July policy meeting, according to CME Group's FedWatch program.

Worries about Britain's economy grew after two polls showed those campaigning for an exit from the EU had taken the lead. Sterling fell to one-week lows against the dollar and euro. [GBP/]

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six major currencies, rose 0.3 percent to 95.842, below a two-month high of 95.968 set on Monday. It rose 2.8 percent for the month, its best performance in six months.

"Brexit" has complicated traders' view on the chances of a Fed rate increase because a British vote to leave the EU could result in market turmoil and pose further drag on a sluggish global economy.   Continued...

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., May 9, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo