published on January 25, 2018 - 1:15 PM
Written by ,

Posted at 12:46 PST

(AP) — U.S. stocks are mostly lower Thursday afternoon as homebuilders fall after the Commerce Department said sales of new homes dropped sharply in December. Airlines continue to take steep losses as investors worry about rising costs and the possibility of falling fares. Retailers are also down, but health care companies including Biogen and Celgene are rising.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor’s 500 index lost 4 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,832 as of 3:15 p.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 58 points, or 0.2 percent, to 26,310. The Nasdaq composite fell 23 points, or 0.3 percent, to 7,392. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks lost 4 points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,594. Recent weakness in the dollar has hurt smaller and more U.S.-focused companies like those in the Russell 2000.

The S&P 500 is up 6 percent this month. It’s on track for its biggest monthly gain since March 2016, a time when the market was recovering after a sharp plunge.

THE QUOTE: Stocks have wobbled over the last two days as investors monitored the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to get a sense of whether the Trump administration’s more nationalist approach will affect global trade.

Julian Emanuel, chief equity and derivatives strategist for BTIG, said investors have mostly tuned out political news in the last year, but it might be time for that to change because after a stretch of historic calm in the markets, volatility is rising slightly.

“Economies and earnings are the drivers of the market long term, but politics needs to be respected,” he said.

BUMPY LANDINGS: Airlines also continued to decline as they reported their quarterly results. Alaska Air lost $4.64, or 7.2 percent, to $60.05 and Southwest shed $2.54, or 4.1 percent, to $59.68 and American Airlines sank $1.70, or 3.1 percent, to $53.09. They took even bigger losses Wednesday after United Continental sent shivers through the industry by saying it plans to add passenger capacity at a faster pace over the next few years.

That could increase the chances of a glut of flights and lower fares at the same time airlines are dealing with higher fuel expenses and higher labor costs.

HOME WRECKED? Homebuilders sank after the Commerce Department said sales of new homes dropped more than 9 percent in December, partly because of severely cold weather. NVR sank $216.80, or 6 percent, to $3,3470.40 while Lennar fell $2.35, or 3.3 percent, to $68.47 and KB Home gave up $1.05, or 3.1 percent, to $33.49. Those stocks have made huge gains over the last year because of strong demand for homes and rising prices.

PRESCRIPTION POWER: After a strong fourth-quarter and new-year forecast, Biogen picked up $7.31, or 2.1 percent, to $353.81, while cancer drug maker Celgene added $1.39, or 1.3 percent, to $104.50. The Nasdaq biotechnology index has climbed 9 percent so far this year.

UNGLUED: Newell Brands, which makes Sharpie pens and Elmer’s glue, plunged to its lowest price in almost five years after it again lowered its forecasts for 2017 and said it will consider selling numerous businesses including Rubbermaid. That’s a sharp change in direction for Newell, which less than two years ago paid $13 billion to buy Rubbermaid’s parent company Jarden.

Newell also said three directors resigned from its board. The stock plunged $6.17, or 19.8 percent, to $25.06.

BONDS: Bond prices turned higher. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.62 percent from 2.65 percent.

The European Central Bank didn’t make any changes to its stimulus programs. ECB head Mario Draghi said the eurozone economy still needs support to keep raising the rate of inflation toward healthier levels. It will continue to buy 30 billion euros ($36 billion) in bonds per month until at least September.

CURRENCIES: The dollar recovered to 109.41 yen from 109.05 yen. The euro edged down to $1.2391 from $1.2405. It had fallen to three-year lows and skidded on Wednesday following comments by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who said the weaker dollar is good for U.S. exporters. While major exporters like technology and industrial companies have benefited from the decline in the dollar, it has hurt smaller and more U.S.-focused companies, which have not done as well as the rest of the stock market over the last year.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude lost 10 cents to $65.51 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained 41 cents to $70.94 per barrel in London.

Wholesale gasoline remained at $1.92 a gallon. Heating oil rose 1 cent to $2.12 a gallon. Natural gas fell 6 cents to $3.45 per 1,000 cubic feet.

METALS: Gold picked up $6.60 to $1,362.90 an ounce, and after strong gains over the last few days it’s at its highest price since August 2016. Silver gained 13 cents to $17.62 an ounce. Copper fell 1 cent to $3.22 a pound.

OVERSEAS: Germany’s DAX lost 0.9 percent and the British FTSE 100 fell 0.4 percent. The CAC 40 in France dipped 0.3 percent. Japan’s Nikkei 225 sank 1.1 percent while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng slipped 0.9 percent. South Korea’s Kospi surged 1 percent.

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