Stocks decline, ending S&P 500’s 3 days of wins
Health care and energy companies led US stocks lower Thursday, ending a three-day winning streak for the S&P 500 and giving the benchmark index only its fourth loss this month.
The modest sell-off came as investors weighed mixed economic data and company earnings reports while keeping an eye on Washington, where US and Chinese negotiators resumed high-level talks aimed at ending their costly trade dispute.
Treasury yields rose and the price of gold fell.
Some of the selling may have been driven by traders electing to take some profits following a big rebound in recent weeks, which came after a steep sell-off in the last three months of 2018, said Erik Wytenus, global investment specialist at J.P. Morgan Private Bank.
‘‘Markets need a little bit of an opportunity to breathe,’’ he said. ‘‘We definitely have seen some market participants lightening up some risk, given the size of that bounce back, because any way you slice it, we’re late in the [economic] cycle.’’
The S&P 500, which has risen for the past three weeks, fell 9.82 points, or 0.4 percent, to 2,774.88. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 103.81 points, or 0.4 percent, to 25,850.63.
The Nasdaq Composite declined 29.36 points, or 0.4 percent, to 7,459.71. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies gave up 6.11 points, or 0.4 percent, to 1,575.55.
Major European indexes finished mostly higher.
The sell-off followed a torrid rise for stocks since late December. The S&P 500 index is still up 10.7 percent for 2019. That’s a better performance than the index has turned in for three of the last four full years.
Thursday’s losses were broad, with health care, bank, energy, and communications stocks accounting for much of the decline. CVS Health dropped 2.9 percent, while SVB Financial Group lost 2.1 percent. CenturyLink fell 4.1 percent. Oil and natural gas explorer Concho Resources slid 7.8 percent.
Stocks headed lower from the get-go Thursday on a mix of new economic data.
The Labor Department said fewer workers applied for unemployment benefits last week than economists expected, an encouraging sign that layoffs are low. A separate report said that orders for big-ticket manufactured goods weren’t as strong in December as expected. Meanwhile, the National Association of Realtors said sales of previously occupied homes fell 1.2 percent in January to their worst pace in more than three years.
The mixed data add to concerns that economic growth will slow in the United States and around the world this year.
Despite the solid profit growth in the last quarter, investors are cautious about business conditions going forward as signs of weakness in the global economy emerge. The long-running, costly trade dispute between the United States and China has also clouded the outlook for company profits this year.
‘‘Trade is the big one right now, because there’s still a lot of uncertainty on it,’’ said Craig Birk, chief investment officer at Personal Capital.
The world’s two biggest economies are locked in a trade war that President Trump started over allegations that China deploys predatory tactics to try to overtake US technological dominance. Beijing’s unfair tactics, trade analysts agree, include pressuring American companies to hand over trade secrets and in some cases stealing them outright.
The Trump administration has warned it will increase its import taxes on $200 billion in Chinese goods to 25 percent from 10 percent if the two sides haven’t reached a resolution by March 2. But Trump in recent days has signaled a willingness to extend the deadline if negotiators are making progress.
‘‘The big thing is just avoiding the hike to 25 percent tariffs,’’ Birk said. ‘‘The 10 percent [tariffs] had a real impact, but it was easily absorbed by the economy and most people didn’t change the fundamental way they operated their business. A 25 percent tariff on many goods would be a different story and have much bigger impact.’’
Traders also got a mixed picture in the latest batch of company earnings reports.
Domino’s Pizza slumped 9.1 percent after it reported weak growth at its stores in the fourth quarter and results fell short of Wall Street forecasts.
Avis Budget Group jumped 17.1 percent on earnings that were much better than analysts were expecting.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings climbed 3.4 percent after revenue surged in the fourth quarter and the company gave investors a solid forecast.
Johnson & Johnson lost 0.7 percent after the world’s biggest maker of health care products disclosed it had received federal subpoenas related to litigation over its baby powder.
Benchmark US crude slid 0.3 percent to settle at $56.96 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, was little changed at $67.07 in London.
Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.69 percent from 2.65 percent late Wednesday.