U.S. stocks indexes were mixed in midday trading Thursday as losses among retailers, homebuilders and utilities outweighed gains in technology companies and banks. Energy stocks rose along with crude oil. European indexes finished mostly lower as the British pound slumped amid discord over a new deal for Britain’s exit from the European Union.
KEEPING SCORE: The S&P 500 index fell 2 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,699 as of 12:16 p.m. Eastern Time. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 88 points, or 0.4 percent, to 24,991. The Nasdaq composite gained 20 points, or 0.3 percent, to 7,156. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies added 8 points, or 0.6 percent, to 1,510.
The benchmark S&P 500 has declined five straight days. The indexes are now on track to finish the month with a loss.
BREXIT: European markets were jittery over a flare-up in discord over British Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan for Britain’s departure from the European Union next year. She persuaded a majority in her Cabinet to back an agreement that would allow Britain to stay in a customs union while a trade treaty is negotiated, but the deal faces an uncertain fate in Parliament and two of her Cabinet ministers, including the Brexit minister, resigned in protest.
The disarray surrounding the process, which is throwing London’s future as a financial center into doubt, sent the pound lower against other currencies and hit British bank stocks. Barclay’s slid 5.7 percent to $8.49 and Royal Bank of Scotland plunged 10.3 percent to $5.85.
TECH RALLY: Technology companies led the gainers. Cisco Systems rose 4 percent to $46.12 a day after the company reported quarterly results that topped Wall Street’s forecasts.
BANKING ON BANKS: Financial sector stocks rebounded Thursday after taking heavy losses a day earlier. Bank of America gained 1.5 percent to $27.62.
ROTTEN RETAIL: Several big retailers slumped. Dillard’s slid 14.8 percent to $62.84 after the retailer’s quarterly earnings fell far short of what investors were expecting. Macy’s gave up 3.3 percent to $32.14. Nordstrom slid 3.5 percent to $58.96.
HOUSE OF PAIN: KB Home had its steepest drop in more than three years after the homebuilder said new-home orders are down sharply in its current quarter versus a year ago. The Los Angeles-based company’s revenue projection for the quarter also fell below analysts’ estimates. The stock plunged 15.4 percent to $17.59. Shares in other major homebuilders also skidded. Lennar declined 5 percent to $39.54, while PulteGroup lost 2.7 percent to $23.87.
While a strong economy and job market helped boost home sales earlier this year, rising mortgage rates and home prices are becoming hurdles for many would-be buyers. The annual rate of new U.S home sales has dropped 15.3 percent since May, eliminating much of the strength in sales from the first five months of 2018.
BIG DECLINER: Shares in Pacific Gas & Electric extended their steep slide, posting the biggest decline in the S&P 500. Investors are concerned over whether the power company can sustain potential losses related to a deadly blaze in Northern California. PG&E is facing a lawsuit claiming it is responsible for the devastating blaze that broke out last week. PG&E shares were down 23.6 percent to $19.57. The company’s market value has dropped 60 percent since Nov. 8.
Another utility, Edison International, is down about 30 percent in the same period. Edison’s shares were off 3.9 percent to $51.79.
ENERGY: Oil prices were headed higher for the second straight day. Benchmark U.S. crude rose 1.4 percent to $57.02 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained 1.5 percent to $67.11 a barrel in London. Despite the latest pickup, U.S. crude oil is still down 12.7 percent for the month. The average price for a gallon of gasoline in the U.S. has dropped to $2.67 from $2.89 a month ago, according to AAA.
Natural gas, which spiked Wednesday amid forecasts calling for a cold snap across much of the Northeast and South, slumped 15.9 percent to $4.07 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Energy stocks got a boost from the pickup in oil prices. Noble Energy gained 3.2 percent to $25.52.
BOND YIELDS: Bond prices rose as traders continued to shift money into low-risk assets. That sent the 10-year Treasury note down to 3.10 percent from 3.12 percent late Wednesday.
CURRENCIES: The dollar weakened to 113.49 yen from 113.51 yen on Wednesday. The euro fell to $1.1320 from $1.1338. The pound plunged to $1.2768 from $1.3038 on concerns that a new deal to enable the United Kingdom to separate from the European Union will not get approved by Britain’s parliament.
OVERSEAS: Major indexes in Europe fell. German’s DAX dropped 0.5 percent and France’s CAC 40 shed 0.7 percent. London’s FTSE 100 rose 0.1 percent. In Asia, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng added 1.7 percent and Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 gave up 0.2 percent. Seoul’s Kospi gained 1 percent. India’s Sensex rose 0.6 percent. Bangkok and New Zealand declined while Taiwan and other Southeast Asian markets rose.