US Markets

Energy sector drops, putting a lid on stocks; Dow closes little changed

Key Points
  • Energy stocks dropped about 2 percent Thursday, capping gains in the major indexes.
  • The House passed the bill by a vote of 217 to 213 after months of struggling to win enough support to move it forward.
  • Wall Street also looked ahead to Friday's jobs report.
Stocks finished Thursday's session mostly flat
Stocks finished Thursday's session mostly flat

Equities closed mostly flat on Thursday as energy stocks put a lid on the broader market.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed about 6 points lower, with Caterpillar and Chevron contributing the most losses. The 30-stock index fell more than 100 points at session lows before recovering most losses.

The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq composite ended the session mostly flat.

U.S. oil plunged below $46 a barrel, hitting a five-month low after data showed a smaller-than-expected decline in U.S. inventories.

"Energy and commodities, in general, are putting pressure on the overall equity markets here," said Adam Sarhan, CEO of 50 Park Investments. "There are also some questions about what can the Trump administration accomplish at this point."

Energy stocks dropped about 2 percent Thursday, capping gains in the major indexes.

"The question is whether the market sees this as a supply story or an indication of slowing growth in the economy," said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial .

Energy is also one of the biggest contributors to first-quarter earnings growth. CFRA's Bell said that earnings growth including energy totals more than 14 percent and drops to about 7 percent when energy is excluded.

"Some of the big energy companies have come out with strong numbers. That's a sign that things are beginning to stabilize," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at First Standard Financial.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
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Investors also digested the House of Representatives' vote to pass a bill aimed at repealing and replacing Obamacare.

The House passed the bill by a vote of 217 to 213 after months of struggling to win enough support to move it forward.

The GOP-led House scrapped a previous attempt at repealing and replacing Obamacare in March, raising concerns about when the government would tackle tax reform.

"That will at least get the ball moving" and get the government closer to tax reform, "which is what the market wants," said Prudential's Krosby.

Expectations of lower corporate taxes have been a boon for the U.S. stock market since President Donald Trump was elected in November. Since then, the S&P has shot up more than 11 percent.

That said, Lindsey Bell, investment strategist at CFRA, is not so sure House Republicans should celebrate just yet. "Even if this bill moves through the House, there will likely be a push-back from the Senate. That's why you're not seeing much of a reaction in health care stocks," she said.

The health care sector traded higher for most of the session and was the second-best performer in the S&P.

Meanwhile, earnings season continued, as social media giant Facebook topped estimates for both profit and revenue, as did Chesapeake Energy and Church & Dwight, among others.

Companies headed into this earnings season with high expectations and most have managed to meet them. More than 70 percent of the S&P 500 companies that have reported have topped their bottom-line estimates.

Investors also parsed through a slew of economic data on Thursday. Jobless claims fell by 19,000 to 238,000, while productivity for the first quarter fell more than expected. The U.S. trade deficit, meanwhile, narrowed to $43.7 billion. Factory orders, meanwhile, rose less than expected in March.

These data releases culminate on Friday, with the U.S. government posting its monthly payrolls report. Economists polled by Reuters expect the U.S. economy to have added 185,000 jobs last month versus 98,000 in March.

"The good news is the strong jobs growth carried through from the previous administration into the first 100 days of the Trump presidency," said Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist at Glassdoor. "The less good news is ... we're not seeing a big acceleration in wage growth."

Kate Warne, investment strategist at Edward Jones, said Wall Street is looking ahead to Friday's jobs report for two reasons.

"First, to see whether we can rebound from the weak first-quarter economic growth, and second, to determine whether the [Federal Reseve] can stay on its path towards normalization," she said.

The Fed kept interest rates unchanged Wednesday after concluding its two-day monetary policy meeting. The central bank also gave the U.S. economy a solid assessment.

Major U.S. Indexes

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 6.43 points, or 0.03 percent, to close at 20,951.47, with Caterpillar lagging and 3M outperforming.

The rose 1.39 points, or 0.06 percent, to end at 2,389.52, with consumer staples leading eight sectors higher and energy lagging.

The Nasdaq advanced 2.79 points, or 0.05 percent, to close at 6,075.34.

About nine stocks declined for every dive advancers at the New York Stock Exchange, with an exchange volume of 1.011 billion and a composite volume of 4.345 billion at the close.

On tap this week:


Earnings: Allscripts Healthcare, El Pollo Loco, Shake Shack, PerkinElmer, Zynga, Zillow, Wageworks, DeVry Education, CBS, Activision Blizzard, Herbalife


Earnings: TransCanada, Cognizant Tech, Moody's, Cigna, CenterPoint

8:30 a.m. Nonfarm payrolls

3:00 p.m. Consumer credit

11:30 Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer at Hoover Institution Monetary Policy Conference

12:45 a.m. San Francisco Fed President John Williams

1:30 p.m. Chicago Fed President Charles Evans, Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard on panel at Hoover Institution

1:30 p.m. Fed Chair Janet Yellen in webcast from Brown University at event on 125 Years of Women at Brown

Watch: Trump's tax holiday could be a windfall for these stocks

Trump's 'tax holiday' could be a windfall for these stocks
Trump's 'tax holiday' could be a windfall for these stocks