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Stocks end mixed as banks stumble, health care climbs

US stock indexes finish little changed as banks and insurance companies tumble while technology and health care companies rise

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    This Oct. 4, 2014, file photo, shows the facade of the New York Stock Exchange.

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NEW YORK — U.S. stock indexes finished nearly back where they started Thursday as steep losses for banks and insurance companies were balanced out by gains in health care and technology companies.

Banks skidded as bond yields reached their lowest levels of the year, which sent interest rates down. Insurance companies plunged as investors weighed the prospects of big losses caused by Hurricane Irma, which is hitting the north Caribbean and is projected to reach Florida this weekend. Payment processing companies rose after Mastercard increased its revenue forecasts, while losses for Comcast and Disney hurt media companies.

The economy “is going to suffer a few dents from the storms,” said John DeClue, chief investment officer for U.S. Bank Private Wealth Management. But he said the economy “is in remarkably good shape,” and that won’t change even if damage from hurricanes Harvey and Irma slows economic growth for a few months.

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If the storms have a noticeable effect on the economy, he added, that will help make sure the Federal Reserve moves slowly in raising interest rates. That’s something investors want to see.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index edged down 0.44 points to 2,465.10. The Dow Jones industrial average dipped 22.86 points, or 0.1 percent, to 21,784.78. The Nasdaq composite rose 4.55 points, or 0.1 percent, to 6,397.87. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks lost 3.52 points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,398.67. Most of the stocks on the New York Stock Exchange rose.

The dollar fell to a two-and-a-half-year low after the European Central Bank raised its economic growth forecast for the region this year. That made the euro stronger and the dollar weaker.

“The European economy is arguably doing as well as ours, or better,” said DeClue.

Insurers slumped as Hurricane Irma cut a path of devastation across the northern Caribbean, leaving at least seven dead and thousands homeless, as well as millions without power. Reinsurance companies fell sharply because many of their policies are for catastrophic losses such as those caused by a hurricane.

XL Group fell $1.97, or 5.1 percent, to $36.48 while Everest Re slid $15.44, or 6.8 percent, to $211.94. Berkshire Hathaway, which owns GEICO and other insurers, slumped $2.80, or 1.6 percent, to $173.90.

The European Central Bank left its key interest rates and bond-purchase stimulus program unchanged, but investors expect the bank to start reducing its stimulus program soon as the European economy continues to improve.

The ICE US dollar index, which measures the dollar’s value against a basket of other major currencies, continued to fall. The euro strengthened to $1.2003 from $1.1913 and the dollar fell to 108.65 yen from 109.37 yen.

That helped technology companies, which make most of their sales overseas. Microsoft added 94 cents, or 1.3 percent, to $74.34. The weaker dollar makes U.S.-made products less expensive in other markets and increases company profits when they are converted back into dollars. That’s one reason tech companies have done far better than any other S&P 500 sector this year.

AbbVie rose $4.73, or 6.1 percent, to $81.78 and Bristol-Myers gained $2.97, or 5 percent, to $62.84 after the companies reported positive clinical trial results. Eli Lilly climbed $1.03, or 1.3 percent, to $81.54 after it said it will cut 3,500 jobs, or about 9 percent of its total jobs. Biotechnology companies also rallied.

Bond prices climbed and yields fell to their lowest level since November. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.04 percent from 2.11 percent late Wednesday. Lower bond yields are linked to lower rates on loans, and banks took steep losses. Bank of America fell 44 cents, or 1.9 percent, to $22.978 and JPMorgan Chase gave up $1.58, or 1.8 percent, to $88.53.

Gold rose to its highest price in a year as it climbed $11.30 to $1,350.30 an ounce. Silver jumped 21 cents, or 1.2 percent, to $18.12 an ounce. Copper dipped 1 cent to $3.14 a pound.

Cable providers and cable channel operators fell after Comcast said it expects to lose as many as 150,000 video subscribers in the third quarter and that competition has been unusually intense. It said intense storms also contributed to the problem. Comcast dropped $2.57, or 6.2 percent, to $38.60.

Disney fell after CEO Bob Iger said the company’s earnings this year will be about the same as the year before, which disappointed analysts. Its stock lost $4.44, or 4.4 percent, to $97.06.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell 7 cents to $49.09 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained 29 cents to $54.49 a barrel in London.

Wholesale gasoline lost 1 cent to $1.66 a gallon. Heating oil rose 3 cents to $1.79 a gallon. Natural gas dipped 2 cents to $2.98 per 1,000 cubic feet.

The German DAX rose 0.7 percent and the CAC 40 in France gained 0.3 percent. The British FTSE 100 rose 0.6 percent. In Asia, Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 rose 0.2 percent, while South Korea’s Kospi jumped 1.1 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index gave up early gains to fall 0.3 percent.

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