Stocks end lower on Wall Street, extending weekly losses

Stocks on Wall Street lost more ground Thursday after a small early gain faded, keeping the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq headed for their first weekly decline in three weeks.

The S&P 500 fell 0.5%, its fourth straight drop. Health care and technology companies were the biggest weights on the benchmark index, offsetting gains by banks and energy stocks.

The latest pullback came as investors continue to assess the pace of economic growth amid worries that the rapid spread of the coronavirus delta variant will dampen consumer confidence and spending.

“The economy seems to be slowing down a little bit and it’s hard to know how much is temporary because of the delta variant and how much is the new normal,” said Chris Zaccarelli, chief investment officer for Independent Advisor Alliance.

The S&P 500 dropped 20.79 points to 4,493.28. The index is now within 1% of the all-time high it set last Thursday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 151.69 points, or 0.4%, to 34,879.38 and the Nasdaq composite slid 38.38 points, or 0.3%, to 15,248.25.

Small company stocks fared better than the broader market. The Russell 2000 index gave up 0.60 points, or less than 0.1%, to 2,249.13.

Bond yields mostly fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note slipped to 1.30% from 1.33% late Wednesday.

The holiday-shortened week has given investors several reports, some conflicting, to review for clues on the direction of the economy.

The Labor Department said Thursday that the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell last week to 310,000. At their current pace, weekly applications for benefits are edging toward their pre-pandemic figure of roughly 225,000.

The upbeat report follows others that show the jobs market is still struggling to recover. The Labor Department’s jobs survey for August was far weaker than economists expected, but the agency has also reported that employers are posting record job openings.

“The big question is whether the job market will get a lot stronger toward the end of this year into next year,” Zaccarelli said.

The Federal Reserve said Wednesday that its latest survey of the nation’s business conditions, dubbed the “Beige Book,” showed U.S. economic activity “downshifted” in July and August.

The central bank said the slowdown was largely attributable to a pullback in dining out, travel and tourism in most parts of the country, reflecting concerns about the spread of the highly contagious delta variant.

Fed officials have indicated they expect to dial back on stimulus measures by year’s end, and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned Congress that she will run out of maneuvering room to prevent the U.S. from breaching the government’s borrowing limit in October unless the debt ceiling is raised.

Biogen slid 6.7% for the biggest loss in the S&P 500 Thursday, followed by Eli Lilly, which fell 5.8%. Among tech stocks, Microsoft fell 1%. Banks and energy companies bucked the broader pullback. Wells Fargo & Co. rose 1.2%, while Marathon Oil gained 1.4%.

Traders also had their eye on some company earnings reports. Lululemon rose 10.5% after the athletic apparel seller’s quarterly results came in well above analysts’ expectations. Boston Beer slumped 3.8% after pulling its profit forecast.

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