U.S. Stock Indexes End Mixed Ahead of Fed Chairman Speech

A wobbly day on Wall Street left stock indexes mostly lower Thursday as investors turned cautious ahead of a widely anticipated speech by the Federal Reserve chairman.

Losses by health care, technology and energy companies, among other sectors, outweighed gains by banks, consumer goods makers and elsewhere in the market. Bond prices fell, nudging yields higher.

Stocks gave up an early gain and then wavered through much of the day after a mixed batch of economic data coupled with remarks from two Federal Reserve bank presidents left investors less certain about the likelihood that the central bank will lower interest rates again next month.

Traders hope for a better read on Fed policy Friday, when Chairman Jerome Powell is scheduled to speak at the central bank’s annual conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

The S&P 500 fell 1.48 points, or 0.1%, to 2,922.95. It swung between a gain of 0.5% and a loss of 0.7%. A pickup in Boeing helped drive the Dow Jones Industrial Average higher. The Dow gained 49.51 points, or 0.2%, to 26,252.24.

The Nasdaq dropped 28.82 points, or 0.4%, to 7,991.39. The Russell 2000 index of smaller company stocks lost 3.85 points, or 0.3%, to 1,506.

Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury yield rose to 1.61% from 1.57% late Wednesday.

Investors now predict a 91.2% likelihood that the Fed will cut its benchmark rate by a quarter-point next month, according to the CME Group, which tracks investor bets on central bank policy. That’s down from 98.5% the day before.

New economic data also has done little to make clear the Fed’s next move.

Surprisingly strong quarterly results from several big retailers this week have given investors reasons to hope that consumers are still eager to spend despite the cloudy economic outlook.

Traders bid up shares in Nordstrom, BJ’s Wholesale Club and Dicks’ Sporting Goods Thursday after the companies reported quarterly results that topped analysts’ forecasts.

Nordstrom jumped 15.9%, BJ’s Wholesale Club vaulted 17.2% and Dicks’ Sporting Goods added 3.6%.

Another retailer, Overstock, surged 8.3% after its CEO resigned.

Homebuilders surged for the second straight day after weekly average long-term mortgage rates slipped to their lowest level since November 2016. Low mortgage rates give homebuyers more purchasing power. Hovnanian Enterprises led the pack, climbing 4.4%.

Boeing climbed 4.2% after a published report suggested the aircraft manufacturer plans to increase production of 737 jets in February if it receives clearance from regulators. The 737 Max was grounded following two crashes that together killed 346 people.

Benchmark crude oil fell 33 cents to settle at $55.35 a barrel. Brent crude oil dropped 38 cents to close at $59.92 a barrel. Wholesale gasoline fell 2 cents to $1.67 per gallon. Heating oil declined 2 cents to $1.84 per gallon. Natural gas fell 1 cent to $2.16 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold fell $7.30 to $1,497.30 per ounce, silver fell 12 cents to $17.01 per ounce and copper fell 3 cents to $2.55 per pound.

The dollar fell to 106.41 Japanese yen from 106.61 yen on Wednesday. The euro was unchanged at $1.1085.