Written by DAMIAN J. TROISE and ALEX VEIGA AP Business Writers
(AP) — Health care companies led U.S. stocks broadly lower Wednesday, giving the market its third straight loss.
Technology and energy stocks also bore the brunt of the selling, offsetting gains in materials and utilities companies. Several retailers also rose. Smaller companies fell more than the rest of the market.
The latest market slide came as investors weighed a new survey indicating a lower-than-expected gain in hiring by private U.S. companies last month and data showing the nation’s trade deficit widened to a decade-long high in December. The discouraging reports come ahead of a key government report on jobs Friday.
“The market is going through a natural digestion process,” said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA. “Some people could be worrying that maybe we are getting closer to an economic slowdown than we thought.”
The S&P 500 dropped 18.20 points, or 0.7 percent, to 2,771.45. The benchmark index is now on track for its first weekly decline since January.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 133.17 points, or 0.5 percent, to 25,673.46. The Nasdaq composite lost 70.44 points, or 0.9 percent, to 7,505.92. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies gave up 31.46 points, or 2 percent, to 1,536.82.
Disappointing economic reports, uncertainty over trade and fears of a slowdown in economic growth have been weighing on the market the past couple weeks.
New economic data on Wednesday did little to encourage investors. Payroll processor ADP said U.S. businesses added 183,000 jobs in February. A solid gain, but less than the 188,000 that analysts expected. Meanwhile, the Commerce Department said the U.S. trade deficit jumped 19 percent in December, widening the figure to a decade-long high of $621 billion.
At times, the market has also drawn optimism over the prospects that the U.S. and China will resolve their trade dispute. U.S. and Chinese officials have hinted that some kind of agreement could be finalized by the end of March, with President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping possibly meeting to formalize the deal at Trump’s private club in Mar-a-Lago, Florida.
Last year, Trump imposed a series of tariffs on Chinese goods in hopes of pressuring Beijing to support more favorable terms for the United States. In June, the White House levied import taxes of 25 percent on $50 billion of Chinese imports. It followed in September with 10 percent duties on an additional $200 billion. All told, the U.S. tariffs covered roughly half of what the U.S. buys from China.
The market got clarity on some uncertainties over the last month, including the Federal Reserve’s strategy and prospects for a U.S.-China trade deal. But investors now face other concerns including a potential global slowdown and increased government debt, said Tracie McMillion, head of global asset allocation at Wells Fargo Investment Institute.
“We’re just waiting for some news that will give us some direction,” McMillion said.
Health care stocks led Wednesday’s market slide. Nektar Therapeutics slumped 5.2 percent.
Investors sent shares in General Electric 7.9 percent lower after the conglomerate’s CEO said it will be left with no extra funds in 2019. GE has shrunk considerably since becoming entangled in the financial crisis a decade ago and has sought to divest even more of its businesses.
Exxon Mobil fell 1.1 percent after the energy company said it would increase spending. Exxon’s decline was part of a broader sell-off in energy stocks.
Hess was down 4.1 percent, while Halliburton slid 4.8 percent.
Retailers put traders in a buying mood for the second day in a row.
A solid fourth quarter and forecast pushed shares of Abercrombie & Fitch 20.4 percent higher. The retailer beat an important industry sales measure on gains at its Hollister brand.
Abercrombie’s results came a day after Target and Kohl’s reported solid quarterly earnings and forecasts. The batch of strong results have been a surprise for investors, considering that overall retail sales fell broadly in December.
Among other retailers, Tailored Brands and Capri Holdings, owner of the Michael Kors, Jimmy Choo and Versace clothing and footwear brands, each rose 1.8 percent.
Dollar Tree gained 5.1 percent after the discount retail chain said it is closing up to 390 Family Dollar stores this year and rebranding about 200 others under the Dollar Tree name.
The company also slashed the value of its struggling Family Dollar chain, booking a $2.73 billion charge in its fiscal fourth quarter.
Dollar Tree acquired Family Dollar in 2015 for almost $9 billion. The move was expected to bolster its business and better battle chains like Walmart and rival Dollar General, but Family Dollar has struggled and pulled down the parent company’s earnings.
U.S. crude slid 0.6 percent to settle at $56.22 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained 0.2 percent to close at $65.99 a barrel in London.
Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.69 percent from 2.72 percent late Tuesday.
The dollar fell to 111.81 yen from 111.89 yen on Tuesday. The euro strengthened to $1.1308 from $1.1303.
Gold rose 0.2 percent to $1,287.60 an ounce. Silver dropped 0.1 percent to $15.09 an ounce. Copper fell 0.5 percent to $2.92 a pound.
In other energy futures trading, wholesale gasoline climbed 1.2 percent to $1.79 a gallon. Heating oil was little changed at $2.02 a gallon. Natural gas slid 1.5 percent to $2.84 per 1,000 cubic feet.