Grumpy Investors Can’t Find Anything to Look Forward To

Stocks lurched lower for the fourth consecutive day Tuesday, as investors looked past a series of outwardly positive earnings reports from companies like Caterpillar and Alphabet and fixated instead on potential threats to the nine-year bull market.

Tech giants Apple and Alphabet weighed heavily on the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index, which sank about 2 percent in afternoon trading. Alphabet, the parent of Google, dropped sharply despite reporting Monday that quarterly profits rose 73 percent. Investors appeared concerned with a surge of spending at the company that cut into its profit margin.

Earnings reports also sparked a sell-off in industrial firms 3M and Caterpillar. Investors were rattled by sluggish demand for the products that 3M sells to auto body shops. And they were unnerved when a Caterpillar executive told analysts that the first quarter might be a “high-water mark” for the year.

The growing concerns about individual companies came against a backdrop that many view as unfavorable for stocks. The Federal Reserve intends to keep raising interest rate this year. Rising commodity prices — global oil prices have been moving up this year in part because of rising tensions between the United States and Iran — fueled investors’ anxiety that inflation could be accelerating. That is pushing longer-term interest rates higher. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note briefly breached 3 percent Tuesday morning for the first time since 2014.