Wall Street lost ground on Thursday, backing away from record highs as investors digested new coronavirus developments and mixed corporate earnings.
Technology shares led all three major US stock averages lower, with the blue-chip Dow suffering the largest percentage loss.
Hopes that the coronavirus epidemic could be on the wane were soured by a spike in fatalities, with an additional 242 bringing China’s coronavirus death toll to 1,367. Additionally, thousands more were diagnosed due to a new testing methodology.
Still, there were glimmers of optimism as the director of the World Health Organisation (WHO) told a news briefing that “we are not seeing dramatic increases in cases outside China.”
“On a day like today investors just have to take it in stride,” said Charlie Ripley, senior market strategist for Allianz Investment Management in Minneapolis.
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Still, the late session sell-off was relatively muted.
“There’s headlines going back and forth … but investors are realising this is a first quarter event and the uncertainties are likely to wane,” Ripley added.
Indeed, in his economic report to Congress earlier this week, US Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said the central bank was assessing the risk of the coronavirus and other potential threats, indicating any change to its accommodative policy was unlikely this year.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 128.11 points, or 0.43 per cent, to 29,423.31, the S&P 500 lost 5.51 points, or 0.16 per cent, to 3,373.94 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 13.99 points, or 0.14 per cent, to 9,711.97.
Of the 11 major sectors in the S&P 500, seven closed in the red, led by industrials.
Defensive utilities and consumer staples sectors enjoyed the largest percentage gains.
The fourth-quarter reporting season is nearing its final approach, with 378 companies in the S&P 500 having posted results. Of those, 71.2 per cent have surprised consensus estimates to the upside, according to Refinitiv data.
Analysts now see aggregate fourth-quarter earnings increasing at a 2.5 per cent annual rate, a stark reversal from the 0.3 per cent decline seen at the beginning of the year.
Cisco Systems Inc dropped 5.2 per cent after providing lacklustre forward revenue and profit guidance on its quarterly earnings call.
Tesla Inc rose 4.8 per cent following its announcement that it intends to raise $2 billion in a stock offering.
Alibaba Group warned that the coronavirus sweeping China would hurt its revenue. The e-commerce company’s shares fell 1.8 per cent.
American International Group Inc slipped 6.2 per cent despite reporting better-than-expected quarterly profit on stronger underwriting in its general insurance unit.
Shares of Kraft Heinz Co plunged 7.6 per cent after the packaged food company missed quarterly sales expectations and took a $666 million charge.
NetApp Inc dropped 9.3 per cent following the data storage equipment maker’s current-quarter profit forecast miss.
Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.04-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.01-to-1 ratio favoured decliners.
The S&P 500 posted 67 new 52-week highs and 3 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 150 new highs and 58 new lows.
Volume on US exchanges was 6.86 billion shares, compared with the 7.64 billion average over the last 20 trading days.