FILE - In this Sept. 18, 2019, file photo floor governor Michael Smyth works at the New York Stock Exchange. The U.S. stock market opens at 9:30 a.m. EDT on Thursday, Sept. 26. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

US stock indexes move lower as investors play defense

September 26, 2019 - 1:35 pm

Health care and energy companies helped pull stocks lower on Wall Street Thursday as the start of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump and new government data showing slower U.S. economic growth put investors in a selling mood.

Health insurers were among the biggest losers in afternoon trading. Johnson & Johnson slid 1.8% and UnitedHealth Group dropped 2.7%. Energy stocks slumped broadly as crude oil prices headed lower. Chevron lost 2.1%.

Technology stocks also fell. The sector has been volatile all week amid investor concerns about the U.S.-China trade war and upcoming negotiations in October. Cisco Systems fell 2.3% and Nvidia dropped 1.5%.

Facebook fell 2.4% and dragged communications stocks lower. The company could find itself the target of another antitrust investigation, this time by the Justice Department, according to Bloomberg.

Banks also declined along with falling bond yields.

Consumer product makers and utilities were among the few sectors making broad gains in a sign that investors were shifting money into lower-risk holdings. Bond prices rose and pulled down the yield on the 10-year Treasury to 1.68% from 1.73% late Wednesday.

The U.S. congressional inquiry into President Trump is throwing more volatility into an already sensitive market, particularly on trade issues. U.S. and Chinese representatives are expected to meet next month to negotiate a way out of the economically damaging feud.

Chinese importers have set deals to buy American soybeans and pork as the governments make conciliatory gestures ahead of trade talks and Trump has suggested a trade deal could happen soon. Nonetheless, investors remain cautious.

Separately, Japan and the U.S. signed a deal covering agricultural, industrial and digital trade, but it kept auto tariffs unchanged.

Meanwhile, the Commerce Department reported that the U.S. economy grew at a modest 2% in the second quarter, a sharply lower pace than the 3%-plus growth rates seen over the past year.

Outside of trade and politics, investors are getting ready for the close of the third quarter and more corporate earnings reports.

KEEPING SCORE: The S&P 500 index was down 0.5% as of 1:27 p.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 105 points, or 0.4%, to 26,864. The Nasdaq dropped 0.9%. Smaller company stocks bore the brunt of the selling, sending the Russell 2000 down 1.1%.

Major stock indexes in Europe moved broadly higher on a relatively quiet day for international economic news.

TAKING A DIP: The S&P 500 and Nasdaq are each on track for their second straight weekly loss as volatile trading around trade issues takes its toll. The late September slide has been cutting into quarterly gains for the S&P 500 and all but erased the Nasdaq's third-quarter gain.

BUSTED RUDDER: Carnival sank 8.7%, the biggest loser in the S&P 500, after the cruise line operator cut its 2019 profit forecast because of a spike in fuel costs. Crude oil prices have risen more than 23% this year on mix of high supplies and tensions between the U.S. and Iran. Other cruise operators also declined. Norwegian Cruise Line slid 3.5% and Royal Caribbean Cruises fell 2.6%.

FEEDING INVESTORS: Conagra Brands rose 4.9% after the food maker reported a surprisingly good first quarter profit. The company cited a solid sales increase in frozen foods and a benefit from last year's purchase of Pinnacle Foods.

GREEN ARCHES: Beyond Meat jumped 11.1% as McDonald's started selling the company's plant-based burger in Ontario. The world's largest burger chain will offer the PLT, or the plant, lettuce and tomato burger, for 12 weeks in 28 locations in Southwestern Ontario by the end of the month. The move pits Beyond Meat and McDonald's against Burger King, which is selling a plant-based Impossible Foods burger at its locations.

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AP Business Writer Damian J. Troise contributed.

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