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Nasdaq closes lower for fourth straight day, S&P 500 hangs on to slight gain

  • The Nasdaq posted its longest losing streak since November 2016 on Thursday. At its session high, it rose as much as 0.9 percent.
  • The Dow and S&P 500 closed well off the highs as worries about rising rates lingered.
  • On Wednesday, the benchmark 10-year note yield rose to its highest level in four years. It traded below that level on Thursday.

The Nasdaq composite closed lower for a fourth straight day on Thursday, notching its longest losing streak since November 2016. The Dow Jones industrial average and S&P 500 snapped a two-day slide, but closed well off the highs as worries about rising rates lingered.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq ended the session 0.1 percent lower at 7,210.09. At its session high, it rose as much as 0.9 percent. But declines in Netflix, Google-parent Alphabet and the iShares Nasdaq Biotechnology exchange-traded fund (IBB) pressured the index lower.

The Dow closed 164.70 points higher at 24,962.48, with United Technologies as its best-performing stock. The 30-stock index rose as much as 358.94 points earlier in the session. Meanwhile, the S&P 500 ended Thursday's session 0.1 percent higher at 2,703.96 after a rollover in the final hour of trading. The broad index gained as much as 1.1 percent.

"On balance, equities are in a 'muddle-along' zone," said Terry Sandven, chief equity strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. "The macro economic environment still looks favorable," but "we need another round of economic releases to get a better sense of how much inflation is in the marketplace."

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Brendan McDermid | Reuters
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

The major averages gave up sharp gains on Wednesday after a summary from the Federal Reserve's January meeting sent the benchmark 10-year U.S. note yield to its highest level in four years. The Dow closed 166 points lower, having risen as much as 303 points. On Thursday, the 10-year yield traded off its four-year high at 2.921 percent.

"The minutes convey a clear sense that inflation is more on their minds than the FOMC statement indicated," Steve Blitz, chief U.S. economist at TS Lombard, said in a note. "The minutes gave readers conviction that only a sea change will stay the Fed from four 25bp rate rises in 2018. One might think this trajectory puts the Fed behind economic activity, but market odds-setters still very much lag the Fed, pricing in only about a 25% chance of four hikes this year."

Investors got more news out of the Fed on Thursday. Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic said things continue to "look up" for the U.S. economy. St. Louis Fed President James Bullard, meanwhile, told CNBC's "Squawk Box" that too many rate hikes could slow down the economy too much. New York Fed President William Dudley delivered prepared remarks, but did not address monetary policy.

Earlier this month, stocks suffered their first 10 percent pullback since early 2016. The Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq all closed in correction territory on Feb. 8. The move lower was sparked, in part, by fears of rising inflation and higher interest rates.

"If interest rates move higher slowly, ... then I think the market will be calm," said Tim Courtney, chief investment officer at Exencial Wealth Advisors. "But if they go up quickly, we could see another wild ride" in the market.

But the major averages were quick to recover some of those losses. As of Wednesday's close, the Nasdaq had regained about 62 percent of the losses suffered, while the S&P 500 and Dow had jumped about 40 percent and 35 percent.

But Randy Frederick, vice president of trading and derivatives at Charles Schwab, said he thinks the market may have recovered a little too fast from its lows. "When you recover that fast, that usually opens the door for another downturn," he said.

In corporate news, Chesapeake Energy shares jumped 21.7 percent after the company reported better-than-expected quarterly earnings. The stock was also the best performer in the S&P 500.

Meanwhile, Roku's stock shed 17.7 percent after the streaming company issued weaker-than-expected revenue guidance for the current quarter.

United Technologies shares rose 3.3 percent after CEO Greg Hayes said the company is thinking of splitting up key parts of its business.