By Caitlin Ostroff and Karen Langley
U.S. stocks dropped Thursday as investors continued to back away from bets on a smooth reopening from the coronavirus shutdowns.
Fresh data showed that initial unemployment claims in the U.S. remained elevated, and the number of confirmed new Covid-19 cases in the U.S. hit a new single-day high Wednesday.
After surging more than 40% from its March low, the S&P 500 pulled back Thursday, dropping 0.8%. Only its technology and consumer discretionary sectors were in the green. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell about 372 points, or 1.4%, recovering after briefly being down more than 500 points.
"It's not surprising, depending on some of the headlines that scroll through at this time, you're going to have what we call basically a choppy market," said Jack Janasiewicz, portfolio manager at Natixis Investment Managers Solutions. "It's going to be uneven. You're going to have fits and starts. The market seems to focus on any sort of bad coronavirus news."
Investors continued to favor many of the megacap growth stocks that have outperformed throughout the market turmoil. Gains by Microsoft, Apple and Amazon helped the Nasdaq Composite edge up less than 0.1%, putting it on track for another record close. The tech-heavy gauge has established a wide le ad over other major indexes in 2020.
Analysts have attributed the stock market's resurgence from its lows in part to broad fiscal and monetary stimulus efforts. But they continue to parse new data that could reveal the strength of economic recovery and the progression of the coronavirus pandemic.
Figures Thursday showed initial unemployment claims edged down last week to 1.3 million, extending a trend of gradual declines from a peak in March. Last week's level remained well above the highest week on record before this year.
As reopenings from the coronavirus shutdowns continue, the count of confirmed new Covid-19 cases in the U.S. reached a new single-day high of 60,000 on Wednesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Shares of companies whose prospects are tied to the economic reopening came under pressure. United Airlines Holdings, American Airlines Group and Royal Caribbean Cruises each lost at least 4%.
With a flurry of new information related to the coronavirus and the approach of the presidential election later this year, many investors expect market volatility to continue.
"The cards are all still very much up in the air for the U.S. economy and the U.S. stock market," said Sarah Henry, a portfolio manager at Logan Capital Management who covers consumer sectors.
Among individual stocks, shares of Walgreens Boots Alliance dropped 8.7% after the drugstore chain reported a quarterly loss and cited reduced traffic in U.K. stores. Bed Bath & Beyond shares lost 25% after the home-goods chain said it would permanently close about 200 stores.
Overseas, China's stock market zoomed higher for the eighth day in a row, leading Asian indexes higher, while stocks in the rest of the world wavered.
The Shanghai Composite rose 1.4% Thursday, extending a winning streak that is now the longest since January 2018. Japan's Nikkei 225 Index was up 0.4% and Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.3%.
"The day traders are actually a sizable part of the market," said Altaf Kassam, head of investment strategy for State Street Global Advisors in Europe. He said the traders were looking at signals of the government's support for the economy: "If anywhere has had a V-shaped recovery, it's China."
The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury dropped to 0.600%, from 0.652% Wednesday. Yields fall as bond prices rise.
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