The major equity indexes were basically unchanged on Thursday as media stocks weighed after negative business updates from Walt Disney and Comcast and as another powerful storm neared the United States.
Gains in healthcare stocks helped stem the losses, while strength in Microsoft, Amazon and Gilead kept the tech-heavy Nasdaq in positive territory.
Comcast fell 5.9 percent after the cable operator warned of subscriber losses, while Disney shares fell 5.0 percent after the company cautioned about its profit growth. The S&P 500 media index was down 3.7 percent.
The Street was obviously concerned about Hurricane Irma, which was bearing down on Florida on the heels of devastation in Texas caused by Hurricane Harvey. Irma plowed past the Dominican Republic toward Haiti after devastating a string of Caribbean islands.
With Irma looming, shares of insurers were weaker, with the Dow Jones Insurance index off 2.1 percent.
Irma is the latest macro event to keep selling pressure on equities following concerns earlier this week about geopolitical tensions involving North Korea, which sparked the biggest one-day drop for the S&P 500 in about three weeks.
Still, the benchmark S&P remains near all-time highs, with market watchers pointing to strong earnings growth and solid economic data as helping to support stocks.
Investors were also digesting comments from European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, who said the euro’s strength was already weighing on inflation and will be a key factor for the ECB next month when it decides how to proceed with its massive stimulus program.
General Electric sank 3.9 percent, dragging on the S&P and the Dow, after a bearish analyst note.
Apple shares also weighed on major indexes, falling 0.4 percent after a report that the company’s new iPhone was hit with production glitches.
Financial shares slid 1.9 percent amid a drop in U.S. Treasury yields.
Healthcare was the best-performing sector, rising 1.2 percent. AbbVie rose 6.3 percent and Bristol-Myers Squibb gained 5.6 after the companies separately reported positive clinical updates on their respective medicines.
Eli Lilly rose 1.9 percent after the company said it would lay off approximately 8 percent of its employees.
Unemployment Claims Driven Higher by Harvey
The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose to its highest level in more than two years last week amid a surge in applications in hurricane-ravaged Texas, but the underlying trend remained consistent with a firming jobs market.
The Labor Department reported a surge in claims that offered an early glimpse of Hurricane Harvey’s impact on the economy. The storm, which unleashed unprecedented flooding in Houston, disrupted oil, natural gas and petrochemical production and forced a temporary closure of refineries.
While Harvey will likely reduce third-quarter GDP, look for any lost output to be recouped in the fourth quarter.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits surged 62,000 to a seasonally adjusted 298,000 for the week ended Sept. 2, the highest level since April 2015, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The weekly increase was the largest since November 2012. A Labor Department official said last week’s data had been impacted by Hurricane Harvey.
Unadjusted claims for Texas surged 51,637 last week as some people found themselves temporarily unemployed. That accounted for 95.6 percent of the increase in unadjusted claims last week. Claims for Louisiana were also affected by Harvey, though they only increased 258.
In addition, claims for five states and a territory were estimated last week because of the Labor Day holiday on Monday.
Economists had forecast claims rising to 241,000 in the latest week. The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, increased by 13,500 to 250,250 last week suggesting the labor market continued to strength.
If, however, the flood disruptions in Texas persist, that could hurt job growth in September. The government reported last week that the economy created 156,000 jobs in August, with the private services sector hiring the smallest number of workers in five months.
The slowdown in job growth is being dismissed for the most par, blaming it on a seasonal quirk. Over the past several years, the initial August job count has tended to exhibit a weak bias, with revisions subsequently showing strength.
In a second report on Thursday, the Labor Department said worker productivity increased at a 1.5 percent annualized rate in the second quarter, instead of the 0.9 percent pace it reported last month. That followed a 0.1 percent rate of increase in the first quarter.
The government last week revised up second-quarter gross domestic product growth to a 3.0 percent rate from a 2.6 percent pace. Despite the upward revision to productivity, the trend remains weak, suggesting it would be difficult to achieve robust economic growth.
With productivity rising, unit labor costs, the price of labor per single unit of output, increased at only a 0.2 percent pace in the second quarter. Unit labor costs were previously reported to have risen at a 0.6 percent pace. They surged at a 4.8 percent rate in the January-March period.
Compared to the second quarter of 2016, unit labor costs fell at a 0.2 percent rate as previously reported. Output was previously reported to have increased at a 3.4 percent pace in the second quarter
Hours worked rose at a rate of 2.5 percent in the April-June period as previously reported. That was the quickest pace since the fourth quarter of 2015, and followed a 1.6 percent rate of increase in the first quarter. As a result, output per worker surged at a 4.0 percent rate, the fastest since the third quarter of 2014, after rising at a1.8 percent pace at the start of the year.
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