NEW YORK/March 20, 2017 (AP)(STL.News) — After an early-afternoon slump, U.S. stocks finished mostly lower Monday in a quiet day of trading. Banks fell along with bond yields as stocks declined for a third straight day.
Lower bond yields hurt banks because they force interest rates down on mortgages and other kinds of loans. Utility companies gave up some of their recent gains.
Most sectors didn’t move much on the lightest trading day of the year. European markets mostly fell after the British government said it will formally begin the process of leaving the European Union next week.
Sameer Samana, a strategist for the Wells Fargo Investment Institute, said politics may keep investors occupied for the next few weeks as they wait for elections in France and a European Central Bank meeting, both next month, while legislators in the U.S. debate the proposed Republican-backed health care law.
“There’s enough events that will keep markets busy,” Samana said. He added that investors want to see tax reform proposals because they could boost corporate profits, but those aren’t likely to come until the health care bill is dealt with.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 index lost 4.78 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,373.47. The Dow Jones industrial average slipped 8.76 points to 20,905.86. The Nasdaq composite rose 0.53 points to 5,901.53. The Russell 2000 of small-company stocks fell 7.43 points, or 0.5 percent, to 1,384.10.
The stock market has mostly been quiet this month. Its two big moves were both linked to the Federal Reserve: on March 1 stocks jumped after the central bank signaled it would raise rates, and they climbed last Wednesday after the Fed made it clear it will move slowly for the rest of the year.
Britain’s government said it will trigger the process of leaving the EU on March 29. That will start a long negotiation between Britain and the EU, with uncertain effects for banks and other companies that do business across borders. Britain is expected to officially leave the union in 2019.
Bond prices rose, send yields to their lowest in three weeks. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.46 percent from 2.50 percent.
Wells Fargo fell $1.04, or 1.8 percent, to $57.63 and Synchrony Financial gave up 92 cents, or 2.6 percent, to $34.20.
The British pound slipped to $1.2350 from $1.2396 late Friday, and it’s down about 20 percent since Britain voted to leave the EU in late June. The dollar declined to 112.58 yen from 112.70 yen. The euro fell to $1.0733 from $1.0743.
Benchmark U.S. crude declined 56 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $48.22 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, lost 14 cents to $51.62 a barrel in London.
Dominion Diamond climbed $2.28, or 23 percent, to $12.20 after Washington Cos. went public with an offer to buy the diamond mining company for $13.50 per share, or about $1.1 billion. Dominion Diamond said it is willing to engage in talks but said Washington doesn’t have experience in the diamond industry and questioned the timing of the offer. Washington Cos. said it first made its offer in February and that Dominion Diamond isn’t willing to open its books.
Nektar Therapeutics soared after the company said an experimental pain drug met its goals in a late-stage study. Its NKTR-181 is an opioid drug designed to relieve pain without causing euphoria, which the company said can contribute to drug abuse and addiction. It studied NKTR-181 as a treatment for lower back pain. Nektar stock rose $6.71, or 43.3 percent, to $22.21.
Array BioPharma fell 29 cents, or 2.7 percent, to $10.27 after it withdrew a marketing application for its melanoma drug binimetinib. After Array talked to regulators, the company said it was clear they wouldn’t approve the drug based on its most recent trial. It will continue studies of binimetinib.
In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline rose 1 cent to $1.61 a gallon. Heating oil edged up 1 cent to $1.51 a gallon. Natural gas jumped 9 cents, or 3.2 percent, to $3.04 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Gold rose $3.80 to $1,234 an ounce. Silver picked up 3 cents to $17.44 an ounce. Copper lost 2 cents to $2.67 a pound.
Finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of 20 major economies dropped a pledge to eschew protectionism in a statement Saturday. The move came after pressure from the U.S. During his campaign President Donald Trump promised to rewrite trade deals, and he ditched the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed pact between 12 countries that border the Pacific Ocean which represented around 40 percent of global economic output.
Britain’s FTSE 100 edged up 0.1 percent. France’s CAC-40 fell 0.3 percent and the DAX in Germany declined 0.4 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index gained 0.8 percent and the Kospi in South Korea shed 0.4 percent. Japanese markets were closed for a holiday.
MARLEY JAY, AP Markets Writer