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Stock indexes finish nearly flat

Stock indexes finish nearly flat
The Dow Jones industrial average inched up to 25,709.94 on Thursday. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

U.S. stock indexes barely budged Thursday as the market’s three-day winning streak stalled.

The benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500 index finished essentially flat as declines by communications, industrial and healthcare stocks outweighed gains by financial and technology companies. Several retailers and home builders also declined.

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Reports of a criminal investigation into Facebook’s data-sharing practices weighed on the social media giant’s shares.

The market was coming off a solid three-day rally as it reclaimed some of the momentum it had in January and February.

Investors are still waiting for some more news on U.S.-China trade negotiations before they feel comfortable pushing the market much higher. Media reports had stoked hope that a summit would take place this month, but no concrete announcement has been made.

Despite some softness over the last few weeks, U.S. stocks are still considered a haven relative to the rest of the world, said Scott Wren, senior global equity strategist at Wells Fargo Investment Institute.

“We’re still the lead sled dogs here, we’re pulling the global economy along,” he said.

The S&P 500 index slipped 2.44 points, or 0.1%, to 2,808.48. The Dow Jones industrial average inched up 7.05 points, or less than 0.1%, to 25,709.94. The Nasdaq composite edged down 12.50 points, or 0.2%, to 7,630.91. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 6.25 points, or 0.4%, to 1,549.64.

All four indexes are showing double-digit gains for the year.

Investors spent Thursday in a wait-and-see mode, keeping a close watch on global trade issues and continuing to mostly brush off the chaos surrounding Britain’s exit from the European Union, its key trading bloc.

The S&P 500 has been holding steady between 2,750 and 2,850 points for the last couple of weeks and isn’t likely to break out of that range until there’s a major change in the trade talks, Federal Reserve policy or other major market-moving development, said Ioana Martin, global investment specialist at J.P. Morgan Private Bank.

Take-Two Interactive Software declined 3.8% on Thursday, leading a slide in communications companies.

Facebook fell 1.8% after the New York Times reported that the company’s data-sharing practices are under criminal investigation. The investigation into how it sells data is the latest in a list of privacy scandals the social media company faces. Its privacy practices have already been scrutinized by the Federal Trade Commission. The company and its chief executive have also faced congressional inquiries.

Boeing fell 1%. The planemaker has slumped throughout the week as nations and airlines grounded its newest 737s over safety concerns after Sunday’s deadly crash in Ethiopia of a Boeing 737 Max 8.

Retailers were among the big decliners Thursday. Tailored Brands plunged 25.1% after giving investors a surprisingly weak first-quarter profit forecast. The company has been trying to increase sales at its Men’s Wearhouse and Jos. A. Bank stores but is facing a tougher retail market.

L Brands, which owns Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works, slid 3.1%. Gap fell 1.8%.

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Dollar General slumped 7.5% after the discount-store operator posted a fourth-quarter profit that fell short of Wall Street forecasts and issued a weak full-year profit forecast. Rival discount chain Dollar Tree dropped 1.9%.

Snap, the company behind disappearing-message app Snapchat, jumped 12.2% after BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield expressed optimism about it.

The Commerce Department said sales of new U.S. homes slumped 6.9% in January, a possible sign that would-be buyers paused during the government shutdown even as mortgage rates continued to decline. The report also showed sales prices slid 3.8%. Home builder stocks mostly fell after the report. Hovnanian Enterprises dropped 2.5%.

Technology companies and banks led the gainers. Apple rose 1.1%. Wells Fargo rose 0.9%.

Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.63% from 2.61%.

The dollar strengthened to 111.73 yen from 111.05 yen. The euro fell to $1.1300 from $1.1329.

U.S. crude oil rose 0.6% to $58.61 a barrel. Brent crude fell 0.5% to $67.23 a barrel. Wholesale gasoline fell 0.4% to $1.85 a gallon. Heating oil fell 0.4% to $1.98 a gallon. Natural gas rose 1.2% to $2.86 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold fell 1.1% to $1,295.10 an ounce. Silver fell 1.8% to $15.17 an ounce. Copper fell 1.5% to $2.89 a pound.

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