Mixed Finish for U.S. Stock Indexes Over Weak Retail Sales

NEW YORK (AP) -

U.S. stock indexes clawed most of the way back from an early slide Thursday to finish mostly lower, ending a four-day winning streak for the benchmark S&P 500 index.

Losses in banks and retailers and consumer products makers offset gains in health care stocks, technology companies and elsewhere in the market as investors weighed new data showing retail sales slumped in December amid a disappointing year-end shopping season.

The Commerce Department reported that December retail sales posted their biggest drop since September 2009. Separately, the National Retail Federation issued figures showing U.S. year-end season sales were weaker than expected.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 103.88 points, or 0.4 percent, to 25,439.39. Earlier, the average had been down 235 points.

The S&P 500 index dropped 7.30 points, or 0.3 percent, to 2,745.73. The Nasdaq composite edged up 6.58 points, or 0.1 percent, to 7,426.95. Small-company stocks rose. The Russell 2000 index added 2.16 points, or 0.1 percent, to 1,545.11.

Slightly more stocks rose than fell on the New York Stock Exchange. Major European indexes finished mostly lower.

Investors retreated into government bonds following the weak report on U.S. retail sales, sending benchmark yields lower. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.65 percent from 2.70 percent late Wednesday. That yield is used to set rates on mortgages and other kinds of loans.

The Commerce Department said retail sales fell 1.2 percent in December from the previous month. Total retail sales for 2018 rose 5 percent from the previous year. Separately, the National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group, said that year-end sales increased a lower-than-expected 2.9 percent as worries about the trade war with China, the government shutdown and stock market turmoil dampened shopper spending.

Retailers had foreshadowed the results in the new reports earlier this month when they disclosed weak year-end season sales.

The sales data pulled shares in Macy’s and other retailers lower. But those losses were tempered by midafternoon as some economists and analysts questioned whether the government shutdown and resulting delay in collecting the retail sales data had made the results an unreliable barometer of consumer spending in coming months.

Macy’s fell 0.4 percent, while Amazon slid 1.1 percent. J.C. Penney bounced back to finish with a 0.7 percent gain.

Makers of consumer products also took a beating after Coca-Cola said its sales could slow this year because of the strong dollar. Coca-Cola slumped 8.4 percent.

A surge in losses from wildfires and hurricanes helped push American International Group to a fourth-quarter loss. The insurer also reported lower investment income in the quarter. The stock lost 9 percent.

U.S. benchmark crude rose 0.9 percent to settle at $54.41 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the standard for international oil prices, gained 1.5 percent to close at $64.57 a barrel in London.

The dollar weakened to 110.49 yen from 110.99 yen on Wednesday. The euro strengthened to $1.1301 from $1.1271.

Gold slipped 0.1 percent to $1,313.90 an ounce. Silver dropped 0.8 percent to $15.53 an ounce. Copper was little changed at $2.77 a pound.