Tech Firms Lead US Stock Index Slide

(AP) -- A day of mostly listless trading on Wall Street ended Wednesday with modest losses as the stock market gave back some of its gains from the day before.

Technology stocks accounted for most of the selling, which lost some of its momentum toward the end of the day. Energy companies also fell. Financial sector stocks declined as bond yields, which are used to set interest rates on loans, headed lower.

The modest losses came as investors weighed mixed data on the economy and the latest batch of corporate earnings reports.

A move on Tuesday by the House of Representatives to show support for the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong appeared to dim some investor optimism about the prospects for progress in the latest trade talks between the U.S. and China.

"We're in the height of earnings season and the results that we got last night, as well as this morning, I would characterize as better-than-feared," said Cayman Wills, global head of equities at J.P. Morgan Private Bank. "On the other side of the pendulum, you have this development on U.S.-China trade relations and the pro-democracy position that Congress took skews slightly negative."

The S&P 500 index lost 5.99 points, or 0.2%, to 2,989.69. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 22.82 points, or 0.1%, to 27,001.98. The Nasdaq fell 24.52 points, or 0.3%, to 8,124.18. The Russell 2000 index of smaller stocks eked out a tiny gain, adding 1.76 points, or 0.1%, at 1,525.06.

Advancers outweighed decliners on the New York Stock Exchange. The benchmark S&P 500 index remains 1.2% below its all-time high set in July.

Stocks got off to a downbeat start Wednesday as investors sized up a mixed batch of economic data and company earnings reports.

The Commerce Department said U.S. retail sales fell in September by the largest amount in seven months. That stoked worries that consumers are pulling back on spending.

A slowdown in retail sales is concerning because consumer spending is a key growth driver for the U.S. economy, which has slowed this year as the costly trade war between the U.S. and China has escalated.

On Friday, the U.S. agreed to suspend a planned hike in tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese goods that had been set to kick in Tuesday. Beijing, meanwhile, agreed to buy $40 billion to $50 billion in U.S. farm products.

While both sides still have many issues to work out, the conciliatory steps announced on Friday suggested the trade talks were making some progress. The three bills passed in the House on Tuesday in support of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong gave investors a new reason to be less optimistic.

Investors are worried the action by the House could blunt the recent positive momentum in the trade negotiation, Wills said. "It might take it a step back."

Stocks are on track to notch gains this week, in part because investors have mostly set aside concerns over the trade negotiations in favor of focusing on corporate earnings for the third quarter. Stocks rallied on Tuesday following surprisingly good earnings and hopeful forecasts.

Even so, company earnings for the third quarter are expected to be down by nearly 5%, according to FactSet.

Traders bid up shares in United Airlines 2.1% and Bank of America 1.5% Wednesday after the companies turned in third-quarter results that topped Wall Street's forecasts.

A mixed third-quarter report card weighed on insurer Progressive, which dropped 2.8%.

Microsoft and Adobe were among the big decliners in the technology sector. Microsoft slid 0.8% and Adobe slid 2.4%.

Companies that rely on consumer spending led the gainers. Retailer Advance Auto Parts picked up 1.9%.

Homebuilders marched broadly higher after an industry survey showed builders' confidence increased to the highest level since February 2018. Beazer Homes USA gained 3.6%.

General Motors rose 1.1% after the auto company and the United Auto Workers reached a tentative deal.

A potential settlement in the opioid epidemic involving some of the nation's largest drug distributors helped lift their shares. McKesson rose 4.8%, AmerisourceBergen climbed 3.4% and Cardinal Health added 2.4%.

Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 1.75% from 1.77% late Tuesday.

Benchmark crude oil rose 55 cents to settle at $53.36 a barrel. Brent crude oil, the international standard, gained 68 cents to close at $59.42 a barrel. Wholesale gasoline rose 1 cent to $1.62 per gallon. Heating oil climbed 3 cents to $1.94 per gallon. Natural gas fell 4 cents to $2.30 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold rose $10.40 to $1,488.00 per ounce, silver rose 4 cents to $17.35 per ounce and copper fell 2 cents to $2.58 per pound.

The dollar fell to 108.77 Japanese yen from 108.84 yen on Tuesday. The euro strengthened to $1.1072 from $1.1035.

Major stock indexes in Europe closed mostly lower.