Losses for Insurers and Banks Lead U.S. Stocks Lower

(AP) -
stocks, markets, Wall Streets

U.S. stocks are mostly lower Thursday as banks tumble along with bond yields and interest rates, and insurance companies fall as investors weigh the prospects of big losses caused by Hurricane Irma. The storm, which hammered the Northern Caribbean, was projected to hit Florida this weekend. Technology companies are climbing as the dollar weakens further, and health care companies are also rising.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 3 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,461 as of noon Eastern time. The Dow Jones industrial average slid 45 points, or 0.2 percent, to 21,760. The Nasdaq composite was little changed at 6,393. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks gave up 6 points, or 0.4 percent, to 1,395.

HURRICANE WATCH: Insurance and reinsurance companies slumped as Hurricane Irma cut a path of devastation across the northern Caribbean, leaving at least 10 dead and thousands homeless. The powerful storm was on a track Thursday that could lead to a strike on Florida early Sunday. XL Group fell $2.28, or 5.9 percent, to $36.17; while Everest Re slid $15.95, or 7 percent, to $211.43. Universal Insurance Holdings gave up $2, or 1.7 percent, to $16.65; and Berkshire Hathaway, which owns GEICO and other insurers, slumped $3.38, or 1.9 percent, to $173.41.

DOLLAR DIVES: The dollar weakened after the European Central Bank raised its economic growth forecast for the region this year. The central bank left its key interest rates and bond-purchase stimulus program unchanged, but investors expect the bank to start reducing its stimulus activity soon as the European economy continues to get stronger. The euro strengthened to $1.2028 from $1.1913 on Wednesday. The ICE US dollar index, which compares the value of the dollar to a basket of major currencies, is down more than 10 percent this year to its lowest level since January 2015.

The U.S. currency also fell to 108.12 yen from 109.37 yen.

The dollar’s decline helped technology companies, which make most of their sales overseas. The weaker dollar makes their products less expensive in other markets and increases their profits when they are converted back into dollars. That’s one reason tech companies have done far better than any other S&P 500 sector this year. On Thursday Microsoft rose $1.17, or 1.6 percent, to $74.58; video game maker Electronic Arts added $1.35, or 1.2 percent, to $118.35; and Oracle gained 76 cents, or 1.5 percent, to $51.77.

BONDS: Bond prices climbed and yields fell to their lowest level since November. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.04 percent from 2.11 percent late Wednesday. Lower bond yields are linked to lower rates on loans, and banks took steep losses. Bank of America fell 61 cents, or 2.6 percent, to $22.80; and U.S. Bancorp lost $1.21, or 2.4 percent, to $49.70.

CHARGE IT: MasterCard rose $4.78, or 3.6 percent, to $137.67 after the debit and credit card payment processor raised its 2017 revenue forecast and its growth forecast for next year. Rival Visa also jumped $1.94, or 1.9 percent, to $105.12. PayPal gained 62 cents, or 1 percent, to $61.86; while eBay picked up $1.11, or 3 percent, to $37.87.

BAD READ: Barnes & Noble sank after it reported results that missed estimates as online and Nook revenue fell. The stock shed 82 cents, or 10.5 percent, to $7.03.

LACKLUSTER OUTLOOK: Engineered component maker Leggett & Platt slid after it cut its profit forecast, citing higher steel costs and weak demand from the furniture and bedding markets. The stock lost $3.05, or 6.5 percent, to $43.50.

BIG JUMP: RH vaulted after the furniture and housewares retailer raised its annual forecasts after a strong second-quarter report. The stock surged $20.18, or 40.8 percent, to $69.60.

TAKING A SHINE: Gold rose to its highest price in a year as it climbed $1.380, or 1 percent, to $1,352.90 an ounce. Silver jumped 25 cents, or 1.4 percent, to $18.17 an ounce.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude lost 21 cents at $48.95 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, slipped 17 cents to $54.03 a barrel in London.

MARKETS OVERSEAS: Major stock indexes in Europe were higher following the European Central Bank’s latest forecast and interest rate policy announcements. The German DAX rose 0.7 percent, and the CAC 40 in France gained 0.3 percent. The British FTSE 100 rose 0.5 percent. In Asia, Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 rose 0.2 percent, while South Korea’s Kospi jumped 1.1 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index gave up early gains to fall 0.3 percent.