NEW YORK/March 7, 2017 (AP)(STL.News) — U.S. stocks declined for the third time in four days on Tuesday as health care companies took center stage.
Drugmakers fell after President Donald Trump said he wants to bring drug prices down. Insurers rose and hospital companies dropped after Republicans in Congress introduced a bill intended to replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
Pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies fell after Trump said in a morning tweet that he intends to bring down drug prices. The health care proposal gave big health insurers a boost, but hurt companies that do a lot of business with Medicaid.
It’s not clear if the bill will pass the Senate, as several Republicans have already questioned it. Stocks turned lower at the end of the day as that criticism increased, leaving the fate of the current bill, a key part of Trump’s agenda, uncertain.
“We’re going to still be having this conversation six months from now,” said Les Funtleyder, health care portfolio manager for E Squared Asset Management.
Elsewhere, energy companies continued to slip and technology companies made smallish gains. Stocks hadn’t fallen for two consecutive days since the end of January, and set their latest record highs last Wednesday.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 index lost 6.92 points, or 0.3 percent, to 2,368.39. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 29.58 points, or 0.1 percent, to 20,924.76. The Nasdaq composite sagged 15.25 points, or 0.3 percent, to 5,833.93. Two stocks fell for every one that rose on the New York Stock Exchange.
On Thursday the current bull market will turn eight years old. It’s lasted longer than any other since World War II except for the decade-long run that ended in early 2000.
Since the middle of 2015 drug companies have repeatedly tumbled as investors worried that the government would take action to reduce prices or at least curb price increases. While Trump has talked about dealing with the issue before, he has never discussed details. Funtleyder said the task might be harder than it sounds.
“There’s no government mechanism at the moment to control costs directly,” he said.
Companies that make high-price drugs took some of the largest losses. Biotechnology company Alexion Pharmaceuticals shed $4.15, or 3.1 percent, to $129.18. Alexion makes Soliris, a high-priced drug that treats two rare genetic disorders. Mallinckrodt, which has faced criticism over repeated increases in the price of its HP Acthar gel, gave up $1.55, or 3 percent, to $49.71.
Pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts and biotech company Gilead Sciences each fell as they bickered over the price of Gilead’s hepatitis C drugs, some of which are listed at $1,000 a pill. Express Scripts lost $2.66, or 3.8 percent, to $67.39 and Gilead slid $1.10, or 1.6 percent, to $69.02.
The Republican health care legislation would provide tax credits for people buying their own insurance and would scale back the government’s role in helping people afford coverage. It would likely leave more Americans uninsured and would also overhaul Medicaid, a joint federal-state health program for low-income Americans.
Hospital operators tumbled. Community Health Systems lost 9.3 percent and Tenet Healthcare sank 7.1 percent. Insurers that do a lot of business with Medicaid, such as Molina Healthcare, also fell. But the largest national health insurers did better than the rest of the market. Humana added $5.21, or 2.4 percent, to $217.95, the largest gain among S&P 500 stocks.
Benchmark U.S. crude lost 6 cents to $53.14 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, lost 9 cents to $55.92 a barrel in London. Energy companies continued to lag the market, however, continuing a pattern that’s persisted since late last year. Hess lost $1.52, or 3 percent, to $49.51 and Exxon Mobil slipped 31 cents, or 0.4 percent, to $82.52 while natural gas companies fell with the price of that fuel.
Technology companies did better than the rest of the market. Video game maker Electronic Arts rose $1.16, or 1.3 percent, to $88.30. Data storage company Nimble Storage soared after it agreed to be bought by Hewlett Packard Enterprise $12.50 a share, or about $1 billion. Its stock rose $3.98, or 46.3 percent, to $12.58.
Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.52 percent from 2.50 percent.
In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline rose 1 cent to $1.68 a gallon. Heating oil added 1 cent to $1.61 a gallon. Natural gas fell 8 cents, or 2.7 percent, to $2.82 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Gold dropped $9.40 to $1,216.10 an ounce. Silver lost 24 cents, or 1.3 percent, to $17.54 an ounce. Copper fell 3 cents, or 1.3 percent, to $2.62 a pound.
The dollar bounced back to 114.05 yen from 113.92 yen. The euro fell to $1.0568 from $1.0588.
The CAC 40 in France traded 0.3 percent lower. Germany’s DAX rose 0.1 percent and the FTSE 100 index in Britain slid 0.2 percent. The Nikkei 225 stock index in Tokyo edged 0.2 percent lower. The Hang Seng gained 0.4 percent and South Korea’s Kospi gained 0.6 percent.
MARLEY JAY, AP Markets Writer