U.S. Stock Indexes Waver Between Small Gains and Losses

(AP) -
markets, stocks, wall street, U.S. stock indexes, U.S. stocks
A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Friday. (Reuters/Brendan McDermid)

U.S. stocks are mixed Friday as technology companies skid while banks and insurance companies recover some of their recent losses. Credit-monitoring company Equifax is plunging after it disclosed a data breach that affects 143 million Americans. Equifax’s rivals also fell, while data-security companies climbed. Grocery stores and household goods companies fell as Kroger said stiff competition forced it to cut prices.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor’s 500 index lost 1 point to 2,464 as of 11:45 a.m. Eastern Time. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 36 points, or 0.2 percent, to 21,821. The Nasdaq composite lost 21 points, or 0.3 percent, to 6,376. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks rose 3 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,402. The New York Stock Exchange was about evenly split between winners and losers.

EYE ON THE STORM: Hurricane Irma, churning with 150 mph winds, left at least 16 people dead and thousands homeless on a devastated string of Caribbean islands, and was spinning toward Florida for what could be a catastrophic blow this weekend.

While insurance companies made a small recovery Friday, investors expect steep losses from Irma as well as Hurricane Harvey. Reinsurance companies, which offer coverage for catastrophic losses like those covered by storms and floods, are down about 10 percent since early August.

On Friday, Universal Insurance Holdings lost 78 cents, or 4.7 percent, to $15.73. XL Group regained $1.37, or 3.7 percent, to $37.85, and Assurant added 87 cents, or 1 percent, to $88.61.

THE QUOTE: Experts think the storms will slow down U.S. economic growth in the third quarter. While that’s likely to be temporary, David Chalupnik, head of equities at Nuveen Asset Management, said the storms could affect stocks because for a few months, it will be hard for investors to tell which companies are having problems that are caused by the weather and which difficulties have other sources.

“The next couple of months are going to be pretty cloudy,” he said. He said insurance companies, cruise lines, and oil refiners based in the Gulf Coast or Southeast will be affected. He also expects that bad debt at credit-card companies will increase, and since the storm will push the Federal Reserve to keep interest rates lower for a bit longer, that will negatively affect banks by keeping interest rates low on loans.

HIGH-TECH HEIST: Equifax slumped in heavy trading after the credit-monitoring company said a data breach exposed Social Security numbers and other information from 143 million Americans. The company, one of the three major U.S. credit bureaus, said the breach occurred between mid-May and July. Equifax shares tumbled $19.47, or 13.6 percent, to $123.25. Competitor TransUnion fell $2.06, or 4.2 percent, to $47.33, and Experian fell 0.7 percent in London.

Data-security companies rallied. Symantec leaped $1.32, or 4.3 percent, to $31.92, and FireEye rose 22 cents, or 1.4 percent, to $15.99, as investors expected more demand for their services.

“This is becoming more commonplace and we have to improve our defenses against it, so I do think you’ll see a lot more spending on security,” said Chalupnik.

UNAPPETIZING RESULTS: Grocery-store chain Kroger said intense competition with Target and Wal-Mart forced it to cut prices in the second quarter, which hurt its profits. Making matters worse, after the quarter ended Amazon.com completed its purchase of Whole Foods and immediately cut prices on many items. Kroger didn’t change its annual forecast, but that also doesn’t account for the hurricanes, which may hurt its sales.

Kroger dropped $1.87, or 8.2 percent, to $20.90, and it’s down almost 40 percent this year. Supervalu fell $1.05, or 5 percent, to $20.04, while Target gave up 73 cents, or 1.3 percent, to $57.69 and Wal-Mart lost 83 cents, or 1 percent, to $79.29.

TECH SLUMP: Information-technology company Science Applications International came up short of Wall Street estimates in the second quarter and said its profit margins came under pressure. SAIC shares slid $12.09, or 16.2 percent, to $62.57.

Other technology companies also struggled. Apple shed $1.26 to $160. Chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices sank 43 cents, or 3.4 percent, to $12.20, and Qualcomm fell $1.25, or 2.5 percent, to $49.13.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude skidded 89 cents, or 1.8 percent, to $48.20 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, lost 37 cents to $54.12 a barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar fell to 107.78 yen from 108.65 yen on Thursday. The euro strengthened to $1.2031 from $1.2003.

BONDS: Bond prices dipped. The yield on the 10-year Treasury rose to 2.07 percent from 2.05 percent late Thursday.

MARKETS OVERSEAS: The German DAX picked up 0.1 percent and the FTSE 100 index in Britain lost 0.3 percent. In France, the CAC 40 declined less than 0.1 percent. Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 slid 0.6 percent after the country’s economic-growth rate was reduced. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng added 0.5 percent, and the Kospi in South Korea fell 0.1 percent.