Losses for insurers and banks push US stocks lower

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U.S. stocks are slipping Thursday as banks tumble along with bond yields and insurance companies fall as investors weighed the prospects of big losses caused by Hurricane Irma. The storm, which hammered the Northern Caribbean, was projected to hit Florida this weekend. Health care companies including drugmakers rose.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 2 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,463 as of 1:15 p.m.Eastern time. The Dow Jones industrial average slid 32 points, or 0.2 percent, to 21,775. The Nasdaq composite added 2 points to 6,395. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks gave up 2 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,399.

HURRICANE WATCH: Insurance companies slumped as Hurricane Irma cut a path of devastation across the northern Caribbean, leaving at least 10 dead and thousands homeless. The powerful storm was on a track to strike on Florida early Sunday.

Reinsurance companies fell sharply because many of their policies are for catastrophic losses such as those caused by a hurricane.

XL Group fell $2.12, or 5.5 percent, to $36.33 while Everest Re slid $14.08, or 6.2 percent, to $213.30. Universal Insurance Holdings gave up $2.65, or 14.2 percent, to $16 and Berkshire Hathaway, which owns GEICO and other insurers, slumped $3.35, or 1.9 percent, to $173.44.

DOLLAR DIVES: The dollar weakened after the European Central Bank raised its economic growth forecast for the region this year. The central bank left its key interest rates and bond-purchase stimulus program unchanged, but investors expect the bank to start reducing its stimulus activity soon as the European economy continues to get stronger. The euro strengthened to $1.1996 from $1.1913 on Wednesday. The ICE US dollar index, which measures the dollar’s value against a basket of other major currencies, is down more than 10 percent this year to its lowest level since January 2015.

The U.S. currency also fell to 108.37 yen from 109.37 yen.

The dollar’s decline helped technology companies, which make most of their sales overseas. The weaker dollar makes their products less expensive in other markets and increases their 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.

HEALTH CARE: AbbVie rose $4.33, or 5.6 percent, to $81.38 and Bristol-Myers gained $3.02, or 5 percent, to $62.89 after the companies reported positive clinical trial results. Generic drug maker Perrigo picked up $4.03, or 5.1 percent, to $82.36. Biotechnology companies including Gilead Sciences, Amgen and Biogen all rose. Eli Lilly climbed $1.54, or 1.9 percent, to $82.05 after it said it will cut 3,500 jobs, or about 9 percent of its total jobs.

BONDS: Bond prices climbed and yields fell to their lowest level since November. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.05 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 54 cents, or 2.3 percent, to $22.87 and U.S. Bancorp lost $1.06, or 2.1 percent, to $49.85.

MEDIA WOES: Cable provider 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 like Hurricane Harvey also contributed to the problem. Comcast dropped $2.68, or 6.5 percent, to $38.49. Other cable providers, cable channel owners and media companies also slumped. Disney fell $3.86, or 3.8 percent, to $97.65. Twenty-First Century Fox lost $1.16, or 4.4 percent, to $25.27.

CHARGE IT: MasterCard rose $4.33, or 3.3 percent, to $137.22 after the debit and credit card payment processor raised its 2017 revenue forecast and its growth forecast for next year. Rival Visa also jumped $1.75, or 1.7 percent, to $104.9 and PayPal and eBay also advanced.

BIG JUMP: RH vaulted after the furniture and housewares retailer raised its annual forecasts after a strong second-quarter report. The stock surged $21.05, or 42.6 percent, to $70.47.

TAKING A SHINE: Gold rose to its highest price in a year as it climbed $13.10, or 1 percent, to $1,352.10 an ounce. Silver jumped 21 cents, or 1.2 percent, to $18.13 an ounce.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude added 3 cents to $49.19 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, advanced 17 cents to $54.37 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. 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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