US Stock Indexes Close Mostly Lower

(AP) -- U.S. stocks indexes barely budged Thursday as the market's three-day winning streak stalled.

The benchmark S&P 500 index finished essentially flat as losses in communications, industrial and health care stocks outweighed gains in financial and technology companies. Several retailers and homebuilders also declined.

Reports of a criminal investigation into Facebook's data-sharing practices weighed on the social media giant's shares.

The market was coming off a solid three-day rally as it reclaimed some of the momentum it had in January and February.

Investors are still waiting for some more news on U.S.-China trade negotiations before they feel comfortable pushing the market much higher. Media reports had stoked hope that a summit would take place this month, but no concrete announcement has been made.

Despite some softness over the last few weeks, U.S. stocks are still considered a safe haven relative to the rest of the world, said Scott Wren, senior global equity strategist for Wells Fargo Investment Institute.

"We're still the lead sled dogs here, we're pulling the global economy along," he said.

The S&P 500 index slipped 2.44 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,808.48. The Dow Jones Industrial Average inched up 7.05 points, or 0.03 percent, to 25,709.94.

The Nasdaq composite dropped 12.50 points, or 0.2 percent, to 7,630.91. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies gave up 6.25 points, or 0.4 percent, to 1,549.63.

Major indexes in Europe finished higher.

The S&P 500, Nasdaq, Dow and Russell 2000 are showing double-digit gains for the year so far.

Still, investors spent Thursday in a wait-and-see mode, keeping a close watch on global trade issues and continuing to mostly brush off the chaos surrounding Britain's exit from the European Union, its key trading bloc.

The S&P 500 has been holding within 2,750 and 2,850 points the past couple of weeks and isn't likely to break out of that range until there's a major change in the trade talks, Federal Reserve policy or other another major market-moving development, said Ioana Martin, global investment specialist, J.P. Morgan Private Bank.

"Unless we have any additional catalysts or any meaningful change in communication from the Fed or from the trade front, it's difficult to see how we could break outside of that range," Martin said.

Take-Two Interactive Software led the slide in communications companies. The stock slid 3.8 percent.

Facebook fell 1.8 percent after the New York Times reported that its data-sharing practices are now under criminal investigation.

The investigation into how it sells data is the latest in a list of privacy scandals the social media company faces. Its privacy practices have already been scrutinized by The Federal Trade Commission. The company and its CEO have also faced Congressional inquiries.

Boeing fell 1 percent. The stock has slumped throughout the week as nations and airlines ground its newest 737s over safety concerns. A second deadly crash over the weekend involving its 737 Max 8 and safety concerns stunted the company's stock gains.

Retailers were among the big decliners Thursday.

Tailored Brands, which owns Men's Wearhouse, plunged 25.1 percent after giving investors a surprisingly weak first-quarter profit forecast. The company has been trying to increase sales at both Men's Wearhouse and its Jos. A. Bank stores, but is facing a tougher retail market.

Shares in other apparel retailers also fell. L Brands dropped 3.1 percent, while Gap gave up 1.8 percent.

Dollar General slid 7.5 percent after the company's fourth-quarter profit fell short of Wall Street forecasts. The discount-store operator also gave investors a weak full-year profit forecast.

Rival discount chain Dollar Tree dropped 1.9 percent.

The Commerce Department said sales of new U.S. homes slumped 6.9 percent in January, a possible sign that would-be buyers paused during the government shutdown even as mortgage rates continued to decline. The report also showed sales prices declined 3.8 percent. Homebuilder stocks were mostly trading lower following the report. Hovnanian Enterprises dropped 2.5 percent.

Technology companies and banks led the gainers. Apple rose 1.1 percent and Wells Fargo added 0.9 percent.

Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.63 percent from 2.61 percent late Wednesday.

The dollar strengthened to 111.73 Japanese yen from 111.05 yen on Wednesday. The euro fell to $1.1300 from $1.1329.

The price of U.S. crude oil rose 0.6 percent to settle at $58.61 a barrel, while Brent crude dropped 0.5 percent to close at $67.23 a barrel. Wholesale gasoline declined 0.4 percent to $1.85 a gallon, heating oil slid 0.4 percent to $1.98 a gallon and natural gas picked up 1.2 percent to $2.86 per 1,000 cubic feet.

The price of gold fell 1.1 percent to $1,295.10 an ounce, silver dropped 1.8 percent to $15.17 an ounce and copper lost 1.5 percent to $2.89 a pound.