Stocks closed lower on Wall Street Thursday as investors turned cautious following a surge in cases of a new virus in China that threatens to crimp economic growth and hurt businesses worldwide.
The modest losses snapped a three-day streak of record highs for the S&P 500 and Nasdaq composite. The selling marked only the second day this month that the market has declined.
Investors largely set aside worries about the economic impact of the virus outbreak the past two weeks. Markets rallied this week partly due to reports that the number of new cases of the new virus in China had declined.
Hopes that the spread of the virus had peaked were dashed Thursday, when China reported a sharp rise in cases and deaths after the hardest-hit province of Hubei took a new approach to classifying and diagnosing the virus.
“We’re in a data-dearth period in the sense that we’re not really going to know fully the effects of the impact of that on Asian and Chinese growth, as well as global growth, for at least several weeks,” said Lisa Erickson, head of traditional investments at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. “You’re just going to see some back-and-forth movement (in the market) until that time.”
The S&P 500 index dropped 5.51 points, or 0.2%, to 3,373.94. The Dow Jones Industrial Average slid 128.11 points, or 0.4%, to 29,423.31. It was down as much as 205 points earlier.
The Nasdaq fell 13.99 points, or 0.1%, to 9,711.97. The Russell 2000 index of smaller company stocks rose 4.36 points, or 0.3%, to 1,693.74.
Markets in Europe and Asia finished mostly lower. The yield on the 10-year Treasury held steady at 1.62%.
The major U.S. indexes wobbled for much of the day as investors weighed company earnings reports and the latest news on the virus outbreak in China.
The change in how Hubei determines and reports cases of the new virus pushed the number of cases worldwide to more than 60,000.
The spike came after two days in which the number of new cases dropped, complicating efforts to understand the trajectory of the outbreak.
Businesses have already been hurting due to the outbreak and more of them are warning that the effects will linger through the year. Organizers of the world’s biggest mobile technology fair cancelled the event, set to take place in Spain, because of health and safety concerns over the outbreak.
Travel-related companies fell broadly Thursday, shedding some of their gains from earlier in the week. Airlines helped pull industrial sector stocks lower. United Airlines fell 1.5%.
MGM Resorts International, which gets about 20% of its revenue from the gambling haven of Macau, pulled its profit forecast for 2020. The stock lost 5.5%. Cruise line operator Carnival slid 2%.
Technology and health care stocks were among the biggest decliners, along with companies that rely on consumer spending. Cisco Systems fell 5.2%, Mylan slid 2.3% and Hanesbrands dropped 2.6%.
Household goods makers, utilities, real estate companies and communication services stocks notched gains.
Fashion company Ralph Lauren warned that the viral outbreak cut into fourth-quarter sales by an estimated $55 million to $70 million. The stock fell 0.6%.
Alaska Air Group bucked the trend, adding 1.5% after the airline said it will cooperate more closely with American Airlines on West Coast service. The airlines asked for government permission to expand revenue-sharing to cover international flights in Seattle and Los Angeles.
Benchmark crude oil rose 25 cents to settle at $51.42 a barrel. Brent crude oil, the international standard, gained 55 cents to close at $56.34 a barrel. Wholesale gasoline was unchanged at $1.58 per gallon. Heating oil was also unchanged at $1.68 per gallon. Natural gas fell 1 cent to $1.83 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Gold rose $7.70 to $1,575.10 per ounce, silver rose 12 cents to $17.60 per ounce and copper rose 1 cent to $2.62 per pound.
The dollar fell to 109.79 Japanese yen from 110.08 yen on Wednesday. The euro weakened to $1.0843 from $1.0867.