Stocks end mixed as investors seek safety; industrials slide
NEW YORK – Stocks wobbled Thursday as investors changed course and tempered their expectations for faster economic growth. Industrial companies, which have surged over the last few months, finished lower as Wall Street focused on gold, bonds, and companies that pay big dividends.
Construction equipment, transportation and metals companies skidded and small-company stocks, which are more sensitive to changes in economic growth, also slumped. Technology companies fell for the first time in February. The biggest gains went to utilities, real estate investment trusts, and other companies that pay hefty dividends. Despite all that, the Dow Jones industrial average, which tracks 30 large U.S. stocks, rose for the 10th day in a row.
Industrial companies have made big gains since November as investors expect the Trump administration and Republican Congress to ramp up spending on infrastructure. That optimism faded a bit on Thursday.
An infrastructure spending bill is one of the administration’s key proposals for speeding up economic growth, along with tax cuts and reduced regulations. But Jeff Kravetz, regional investment strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management, said it might take a while before any bills are introduced or become law.
“They’re all positive initiatives for the economy but to get any of these done is not something we can get done in a few months,” he said. “We may have gotten ahead of ourselves with a lot of these initiatives.”
The Dow added 34.72 points, or 0.2 percent, to 20,810.32. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 0.99 points to 2,363.81. The Nasdaq composite lost 25.12 points, or 0.4 percent, to 5,835.51. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks slid 9.23 points, or 0.7 percent, to 1,394.62.
Industrial companies declined for the second day in a row, and took some of their biggest losses since the presidential election. They’ve made big gains since November as investors expect the Trump administration and Republican Congress to ramp up spending on infrastructure. That optimism faded a bit on Thursday. Construction equipment maker Caterpillar gave up $2.65, or 2.7 percent, to $95.55, its biggest loss since September. United Rentals shed $7.16, or 5.6 percent, to $120.90.
The price of copper fell 3.3 percent to $2.64 a pound, its biggest one-day decline in more than a year. Copper is used in numerous construction projects, so its price has jumped recently. Companies that make basic materials also fell, and U.S. Steel lost $3.18, or 7.9 percent, to $37.31.
Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.37 percent from 2.42 percent.
That helped companies that pay big dividends, like utilities, real estate investment trusts and phone companies. Electricity company FirstEnergy picked up 60 cents, or 1.9 percent, to $31.39. Realty Income, which owns properties used by retailers like drugstores and discount stores, gained $1.72, or 2.8 percent, to $62.86.
In another sign investors were seeking some refuge, gold jumped $18.10, or 1.5 percent, to $1,251.40 an ounce and silver rose 17 cents to $18.12 an ounce.
L Brands, the owner of Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works, tumbled after it said February sales have been weak, especially at Victoria’s Secret. The company decided to stop selling swimwear last year and said sales at older stores have dropped sharply. The stock gave up $9.19, or 15.8 percent, to $48.94.
Food conglomerate Hormel skidded after it said low turkey prices hurt its profit and sales in the first quarter, and Hormel cut its annual profit estimate because it expects those prices to remain weak. The stock fell $2.01, or 5.4 percent, to $35.29.
HP Inc. blew past analyst estimates in the fourth quarter thanks to a 10 percent jump in revenue from personal computers. The company said Notebook sales jumped, which made up for lower printer revenue and flat desktop sales. The stock added $1.40, or 8.6 percent, to $17.60.
That wasn’t enough to keep the recent technology rally going, but Kravetz, of U.S. Bank, said technology stocks should continue to do well because their earnings are improving and both consumers and businesses are feeling more comfortable spending. Tech stocks are at their highest levels since the dot-com boom.
Benchmark U.S. crude oil futures rebounded, rising 86 cents, or 1.6 percent, to $54.45 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the standard for pricing international oils, rose 61 cents to $56.58 a barrel in London.
In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline gained 2 cents to $1.53 a gallon. Heating oil rose 3 cents to $1.66 a gallon. Natural gas picked up 3 cents to $2.62 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Boston Scientific sank after it said it will take all of its Lotus Valve devices off the market and from clinical testing sites because of a manufacturing problem. The device is intended to replace damaged or defective aortic valves. Last year the company announced a similar problem with a related Lotus product. Boston Scientific stock lost 73 cents, or 2.9 percent, to $24.43, and competitor Edwards Lifescience jumped $3.55, or 3.8 percent, to $95.76.
The dollar dipped to 112.75 yen from 113.12 yen. The euro inched up to $1.0574 from $1.0568.
Britain’s FTSE 100 index and Germany’s DAX both declined 0.4 percent and the French CAC 40 slid 0.1 percent. Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 lost less than 0.1 percent and the Kospi of South Korea finished 0.1 percent higher. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng shed 0.4 percent.