Stocks head lower, threatening to break a winning streak

Posted on Thursday, February 21st, 2019 By Alex Veiga, AP Business Writer

U.S. stocks headed lower in late-afternoon trading Thursday, placing the benchmark S&P 500 index on track for just its fourth decline this month.

The losses were widespread, with health care stocks, banks and energy companies accounting for much of the decline. CVS Health dropped 3.4 percent, while Morgan Stanley lost 1.3 percent. Oil and natural gas explorer Concho Resources slid 7.7 percent.

A mixed batch of reports on the U.S. economy helped keep markets in check, and investors are also waiting to see what comes out of high-level talks in Washington between U.S. and Chinese officials on their trade dispute.

Treasury yields rose, as prices for government bonds fell. The price of gold declined.

The pause for stocks follows a torrid rise since late December, and the S&P 500 index is still up 10.6 percent for 2019 so far. That's a better performance than the index has turned in for three of the last four full years.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 152 points, or 0.6 percent, to 25,802 as of 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time. The S&P 500 index, which is coming off a three-day winning streak, dropped 0.6 percent, while the Nasdaq composite lost 0.6 percent. Major European indexes finished mostly higher.

THE QUOTE: Some traders appear to be taking some profits now, given stocks rebounded strongly in recent weeks following 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."

TRADE TALKS: The U.S. and China resumed high-levels talks Thursday aimed at easing a trade standoff that has unnerved global investors and clouded the outlook for the world economy.

The world's two biggest economies are locked in a trade war that President Donald Trump started over allegations that China deploys predatory tactics to try to overtake U.S. 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 escalate its import taxes on $200 billion in Chinese goods from 10 percent to 25 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.

A CLOUDY ECONOMY: Fewer workers applied for unemployment benefits than economists expected, an encouraging sign that layoffs are low. But a separate report said that orders for big-ticket manufactured goods weren't as strong in December as expected. A report on home sales, meanwhile, was a touch weaker than economists forecast.

The mixed set of reports comes as concerns rise that economic growth will slow in the United States and around the world this year.

OH, BABY: Johnson & Johnson lost 1.1 percent after disclosing that it had received federal subpoenas related to litigation over its baby powder.

BAD PIZZA: Domino's Pizza slumped 9.5 percent after the pizza chain reported weak growth at its stores in the fourth quarter and results fell short of Wall Street forecasts.

NO DEAL: Navient shares dropped 3.3 percent on news that hedge fund Canyon Capital Advisors will no longer pursue a buyout of the student loan provider after its offer was rejected.

IN GEAR: Avis Budget Group jumped 17.4 percent after reporting earnings that were much better than analysts were expecting.

FULL SPEED AHEAD: Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings climbed 2.9 percent after the cruise line operator's revenue surged in the fourth quarter and it gave investors a solid forecast.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude slid 0.3 percent to settle at $56.96 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell was little changed at $67.07 a barrel in London.

BOND YIELDS: Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.69 percent from 2.65 percent late Wednesday.


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