This story was updated at 4:20 p.m. EST
U.S. stocks ended their biggest three-day rally since August on Thursday despite modest overnight gains in Asia and Europe. All major indexes were down, with the Nasdaq composite losing 46.53 points, or 1 percent, to 4,487.54.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEXDJX:.DJI) shed 40.40 points or 0.25 percent to 16,413.43. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index (INDEXSP:.INX) lost 8.99 points or 0.47 percent to 1,917.83. All three markets are down for the year and the Dow dipped back into negative territory for the month after closing slightly in the green on Wednesday.
“Stock market bulls have become extremely scarce,” Burt White, chief investment officer for LPL Financial said in a note to investors, stopping short of predicting a bear market was in the works. The S&P is down about 6.5 percent from a Dec. 29 peak, and it dropped below 2,000 on Jan. 6. But the broad index would have to fall much further before entering bear territory.
Official weekly jobless claims data before the opening bell showed fewer-than-expected Americans filing for unemployment benefits last week. A separate report from the Philadelphia Federal Reserve showed “continued weakening” in business activity in the mid-Atlantic region in February.
Eight out of 10 S&P 500 sectors closed down Thursday with only by utilities and telecom stocks gaining. The Dow Industrial 30 largest companies were led by International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM) and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ). Decliners were led by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE:WMT) and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE:GS).
The U.S. Labor Department said Thursday that 262,000 Americans filed for unemployment benefits on a seasonally adjusted basis last week, 7,000 fewer than the previous week and below the 275,000 forecast from economists polled by Thomson Reuters.
Safe Harbor Bets
The benchmark U.S. 10-year Treasury yield touched 1.743, its lowest level in a week. The yield rose above 1.8 percent this week for the first time since Feb. 5. The bond yield typically rises when investors are more confident about the markets and falls when concerns flare. Gold, another so-called safe-harbor investment, gained 2.04 percent to $1,236.10 per troy ounce, around its highest level since last February. Gold prices tend to rise as confidence in the markets falls.
Crude prices were moving up for the second consecutive day after Iran approved plans by Saudi Arabia and Russia to freeze their output to current near-record levels. Iran stopped short of joining this effort to stabilize oil prices as it begins to export oil this week after nuclear-related sanctions were lifted last month. (The U.S. still has sanctions on Iran related to human rights and terrorism.)
U.S. West Texas Intermediate lost 0.78 percent to $30.42 on per barrel for March delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange on Thursday afternoon. Brent crude, the other major global benchmark, gained 1.71 percent to $33.91 for April delivery on the London ICE Futures Exchange.
On Thursday, Asian stocks followed U.S. markets up after Wall Street posted its biggest three-day rise since last summer, helped by a surprise pop from January’s industrial output data. European shares were higher in afternoon trading.
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index closed 2.3 percent higher Thursday, and Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 also closed up 2.3 percent. The Shanghai Shenzhen 300 index of China’s largest mainland companies dropped a slight 0.3 percent.
In Europe, the broad Stoxx Europe 600 index closed flat on Thursday. London’s FTSE dropped 0.97 percent as investors mull a two-day summit taking place in Brussels on the future of Britain’s EU membership. The Paris-based CAC 40 gained 0.15 percent while Frankfurt’s DAX advanced 0.92 percent.
Marriott International Inc. (NASDAQ:MAR) shares dropped after the global hotel operator beat profit estimates while coming in as expected on revenue in its fourth quarter. The company is trying to buy rival Starwood Hotels & Resorts (NYSE:HOT) in a $12.2 billion deal to make the world’s largest hotel chain.
Solar power services provider SunPower Corp. (NASDAQ:SPWR) stock fell after the company beat revenue and profit estimates for the fourth quarter of 2015. But its own forecast for earnings this year fell below expectations.
Nvidia Corp. (NASDAQ:NVDA) shares jumped after reporting better-than-expected profit and revenue for its fourth quarter. The Computer and automotive graphics card maker said lower demand from personal computer sales were offset by growth from manufacturers.
Devon Energy Corp. (NYSE:DVN) stock dropped after the Oklahoma energy company said it would float 55 million more shares to raise much-needed cash.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE:WMT) stock dropped after reporting better-than-expected profit while missing on revenue. Store sales came in lower than expected, too.