Wall Street ends lower on healthcare losses, interest rate jitters
NEW YORK – Wall Street’s main indexes closed lower after choppy trading on Thursday as losses in healthcare stocks eclipsed gains in Cisco and energy stocks, while upbeat economic data kept alive fears of interest rates remaining higher for longer.
Weighing heavily on the S&P 500, CVS Health tumbled 8 percent on news that Blue Shield of California plans to cut its reliance on the company as its pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) and work with others including Amazon.com.
Shares of major health insurers UnitedHealth and Cigna, which also have PBM units, dropped by 1.9 percent and 6.4 percent respectively, pushing the broader S&P 500 healthcare index 0.8 percent lower.
The S&P 500 lost 33.97 points, or 0.77 percent, to 4,370.36 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 143.75 points, or 1.07 percent, to 13,330.88.
The S&P 500 is down 2.7 percent over the past three sessions, its deepest three-session drop since mid-March. The Nasdaq’s 3.4 percent drop over three days marks its deepest three-day drop since February.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 290.91 points, or 0.84 percent, to 34,474.83.
Higher oil prices lifted shares of Exxon Mobil and Chevron by 1.9 percent to 1.7 percent respectively, as commodities were helped by hopes that China’s central bank was seeking to bolster the property market and wider economy.
Pressuring equities further, the yield on 10-year U.S. Treasury notes hit its highest level since October as a raft of strong economic data this week stokes concerns the Fed could keep interest rates at the current level for longer.
“Stocks may be choppy in the near term while we wait for either earnings to pick up or yields to come down,” said Jeffrey Buchbinder, chief equity strategist at LPL Financial.
A report from the Labor Department showed a fall in jobless claims last week, signaling the labor market remained tight.
Minutes from the Fed’s July meeting released on Wednesday showed most policymakers prioritizing the battle against inflation, adding to uncertainty about the central bank’s interest rate path.
The stock market’s weakness in recent days is due to robust U.S. economic growth suggesting the Fed is likely going to embrace “high rates for longer,” said Barry Bannister, chief equity strategist at Stifel.
A majority of traders expect the Federal Reserve to keep rates unchanged in September, though bets of a pause have slipped to 86.5 percent from about 89 percent a week earlier, according to CME Group’s Fedwatch tool.
Keeping a lid on losses, Cisco Systems gained 3.3 percent after the networking equipment maker’s fourth-quarter results beat estimates, and its CEO talked up artificial intelligence opportunities.
Shares of Pfizer rose 2.9 percent as the company said its updated COVID-19 shot, which is being tested against emerging variants, showed neutralizing activity against the “Eris” subvariant in a study conducted on mice.
Vaccine makers Moderna and Novavax also rose as U.S. data showed COVID-19-related hospitalizations up more than 40 percent from recent lows hit in June.
Retail heavyweight Walmart raised its full-year forecasts after beating second-quarter sales estimates, but its shares fell 2.2 percent.
Declining stocks outnumbered rising ones within the S&P 500 by a 2.7-to-one ratio.
The S&P 500 posted two new highs and 17 new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 25 new highs and 252 new lows.
Volume on U.S. exchanges was relatively heavy, with 11.2 billion shares traded, compared to an average of 11.0 billion shares over the previous 20 sessions.