Stocks slip for a third day as bank shares stumble

U.S. stocks finished mostly lower Monday in a quiet day of trading. Banks fell along with bond yields as stocks declined for a third straight day.

Lower bond yields hurt banks because they force down interest rates on mortgages and other kinds of loans. Utilities companies gave up some of their recent gains.

Most sectors didn't move much on the lightest trading day of the year. European markets mostly fell after the British government said it will formally begin the process of leaving the European Union next week.

Sameer Samana, a strategist for the Wells Fargo Investment Institute, said politics may keep investors occupied for the next few weeks as they wait for elections in France and a European Central Bank meeting, both next month, while legislators in the United States debate the Republican-backed proposed healthcare law.

“There's enough events that will keep markets busy,” Samana said. He added that investors want to see tax reform proposals because they could boost corporate profits, but those aren't likely to come until the healthcare bill is dealt with.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 4.78 points, or 0.2%, to 2,373.47. The Dow Jones industrial average slipped 8.76 points to 20,905.86. The Nasdaq composite rose 0.53 of a point to 5,901.53. The Russell 2000 of small-company stocks fell 7.43 points, or 0.5%, to 1,384.10.

The stock market has been mostly quiet this month. Its two big moves were both linked to the Federal Reserve: Stocks jumped March 1 after the central bank signaled it would raise interest rates, and they climbed Wednesday after the Fed made it clear that it will move slowly for the rest of the year.

Britain's government said it will trigger the process of leaving the EU on March 29. That will start a long negotiation between Britain and the EU, with uncertain effects for banks and other companies that do business across borders. Britain is expected to officially leave the union in 2019.

Bond prices rose, sending yields to their lowest level in three weeks. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.46% from 2.50%.

Wells Fargo fell 1.8% to $57.63 and Synchrony Financial slid 2.6% to $34.20.

The British pound slipped to $1.2350 from Friday’s $1.2396, and it's down about 20% since Britain voted to leave the EU in late June. The dollar declined to 112.58 yen from 112.70 yen. The euro fell to $1.0733 from $1.0743.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell 56 cents, or 1.1%, to $48.22 a barrel. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell 14 cents to $51.62 a barrel.

Dominion Diamond leaped 23% to $12.20 after Washington Cos. went public with an offer to buy the diamond mining company for $13.50 a share, or about $1.1 billion. Dominion Diamond said it is willing to engage in talks, but said Washington doesn't have experience in the diamond industry and questioned the timing of the offer. Washington said that it first made its offer in February and that Dominion Diamond isn't willing to open its books.

Nektar Therapeutics soared 43.3% to $22.21 after the San Francisco company said an experimental pain drug met its goals in a late-stage study. Its NKTR-181 is an opioid drug designed to relieve pain without causing euphoria, which the company said can contribute to drug abuse and addiction. It studied NKTR-181 as a treatment for lower back pain.

Array BioPharma fell 2.7% to $10.27 after it withdrew a marketing application for its melanoma drug binimetinib. After Array talked to regulators, the company said it was clear they wouldn't approve the drug based on its most recent trial. It will continue studies of binimetinib.

Wholesale gasoline rose 1 cent to $1.61 a gallon. Heating oil rose 1 cent to $1.51 a gallon. Natural gas jumped 9 cents, or 3.2%, to $3.04 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold rose $3.80 to $1,234 an ounce. Silver rose 3 cents to $17.44 an ounce. Copper fell 2 cents to $2.67 a pound.

Finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of 20 major economies dropped a pledge to eschew protectionism in a statement Saturday. The move came after pressure from the United States. During his campaign, President Trump promised to rewrite trade deals, and he ditched the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed pact among 12 countries that border the Pacific Ocean that represented around 40% of global economic output.

Britain's FTSE 100 edged up 0.1%. France's CAC-40 fell 0.3% and the DAX in Germany declined 0.4%. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index gained 0.8% and the Kospi in South Korea shed 0.4%. Japanese markets were closed for a holiday.

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UPDATES:

3:50 p.m.: This article was updated with closing prices, context and analyst comment.

8:05 a.m.: This article was updated with market prices and context.

This article was originally published at 7:05 a.m.

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