U.S. stocks edged lower in early trading Thursday, pulled down by insurers and other financial companies as investors weighed the prospects of big losses for the sector from Hurricane Irma. The storm, which hammered the northern Caribbean, was projected to hit Florida this weekend. Healthcare and technology companies were among the biggest gainers.
KEEPING SCORE: The Standard Poor’s 500 index fell 2 points, or 0.1%, to 2,463 as of 7:21 a.m. Pacific time. The Dow Jones industrial average slid 22 points, or 0.1%, to 21,785. The Nasdaq composite lost 3 points, or 0.1%, to 6,389. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks gave up 6 points, or 0.5%, to 1,395.
HURRICANE WATCH: Insurance and reinsurance companies slumped as investors eyed Hurricane Irma, which cut a path of devastation across the northern Caribbean, leaving at least 10 dead and thousands homeless. The powerful storm was on a track Thursday that could lead to a strike on Florida early Sunday. XL Group fell $1.65, or 4.3%, to $36.80, while Federated National Holding Co. slid 73 cents, or 5.8%, to $11.79. Universal Insurance Holdings gave up $1.62, or 8.7%, to $17.02.
BAD READ: Barnes Noble sank 13.7% after reporting results that missed estimates as online and Nook revenue fell. The stock shed $1.07 to $6.78.
European Central Bank raised its economic growth forecast for the region this year. The central bank also left its key interest rates and bond-purchase stimulus program unchanged. The euro strengthened to $1.1986 from $1.1913 on Wednesday. The U.S. currency also rose to 108.89 yen from 109.37 yen. The ICE US dollar index, which compares the value of the dollar to a basket of major currencies, is down more than 10% this year.
BONDS: Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.0% from 2.11% late Wednesday.
ENERGY: Oil futures were mixed. Benchmark U.S. crude was down 19 cents at $48.97 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, used to price international oils, was up 15 cents to $54.35 a barrel in London.
MARKETS OVERSEAS: Major stock indexes in Europe were higher following the European Central Bank’s latest forecast and interest rate policy announcements. Germany’s was up 0.8%, while the CAC 40 in France was 0.4% higher. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares rose 0.6%. In Asia, Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 rose 0.2%, while South Korea’s Kospi jumped 1.1%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index gave up early gains to fall 0.3%.