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After a listless day, S&P 500 marks its 3rd straight loss

Trader Michael Milano works on the floor of

Trader Michael Milano works on the floor of the NYSE on Feb. 22. Credit: AP / Richard Drew

Stocks finished modestly lower Thursday, closing out another listless day of trading on Wall Street with a third straight loss for the market.

Technology, energy and consumer products companies pulled down the market, offsetting gains in consumer goods, utilities and real estate stocks.

Investors weighed a government report that showed economic growth slowed at the end of last year. Traders also had their eye on a mixed batch of corporate earnings reports.

"You have a market that's trying to digest what's next right now; really, all week it's been kind of consolidating a little bit," said Willie Delwiche, investment strategist at Baird. "You also have month-end selling, which is not uncommon."

Despite a sluggish few days, the benchmark S&P 500 index still gained 11.1 percent over January and February, its best start to a year since 1991. The index has posted a monthly gain nine out of the past 12 months.

The S&P 500 index slipped 0.3 percent, to 2,784.49. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 69.16 points, or 0.3 percent, to 25,916. The Nasdaq composite index dropped or 0.3 percent, to 7,532.53.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies gave up 5.50 points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,575.55. Major indexes in Europe closed mostly higher. South Korean stocks fell after talks between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ended abruptly without an agreement.

The market's strong start to the year is in stark contrast to a dismal end to 2018, when a plunge almost put an end to the bull market. The gains so far this year are being pushed by investor confidence in prospects for steady growth and an increasingly hands-off Federal Reserve.

Still, the modest decline in stocks this week after a barely broken string of weekly gains in the S&P 500 suggests the market's momentum has started to stall a little bit, Delwiche said.

"A flat week feels like something has changed," Delwiche said.

Investors are still waiting for more details on trade negotiations between the U.S. and China. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has raised doubts about progress, telling lawmakers that "much still needs to be done" before the sides can reach an agreement over Beijing's technology strategy and other issues.

The latest snapshot of the U.S. economy shows that it grew in the fourth quarter at its slowest pace since the beginning of 2018. The growth still beat economists' forecasts, however, which sent bond yields higher. A bright spot in the latest report shows that for the full year, the economy grew at its fastest pace since 2015.

Still, signs that the global economy will slow this year, dragging down corporate profits, remain a concern for investors.

On Thursday, several tech companies reported subpar quarterly results.

HP plunged 17.3 percent after it reported that weaker printer and computer sales hurt fiscal first-quarter profit. It also expects printer supplies revenue to fall in 2019 because of weaker global demand.

Cloud-computing company Box nose-dived 18.6 percent after delivering a weak forecast. Priceline.com parent Booking Holdings slumped 11 percent after warning of a slowdown of sales in Europe.

Results from other companies put traders in a buying mood.

Monster Beverage rose 8.7 percent on strong sales growth for its signature energy drinks. The higher drink sales pushed revenue and profit beyond Wall Street forecasts and the company plans to buy back $500 million in stock.

J.C. Penney surged 22.6 percent, it's second-biggest one-day gain, after the department store operator beat investor forecasts for the fourth-quarter. The retailer had warned of a weak holiday sales period and its profit tumbled more than 70 percent. Still, the results and a key sales measure for retailers weren't as bad as Wall Street expected.

The company, which has been closing stores for years, said it would turn the lights out at another 18 department stores, as well as nine home and furniture stores.

U.S. crude rose 0.5 percent to settle at $57.22 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell 0.5 percent to close at $66.03 a barrel in London.

Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.72 percent from 2.69 percent late Wednesday.

The dollar rose to 111.42 yen from 110.04 yen on Wednesday. The euro strengthened to $1.1379 from $1.1370.

Gold fell 0.4 percent to $1,316.10 an ounce. Silver dropped 0.8 percent to $15.63 an ounce. Copper declined 0.5 percent to $2.95 a pound.

In other energy futures trading, wholesale gasoline slid 0.3 percent to $1.63 a gallon. Heating oil rose 0.1 percent to $2.02 a gallon. Natural gas gained 0.5 percent to $2.81 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Stock indexes headed slightly lower in late-afternoon trading Thursday after the government reported that economic growth slowed down at the end of last year.

Energy, consumer products and materials companies weighed most on the market, offsetting gains in consumer goods and real estate stocks.

The market is still heading for its best start of the year since 1991, in stark contrast to a dismal end to 2018, when a plunge almost put an end to the bull market. The gains so far this year are being pushed by investor confidence in prospects for steady growth and an increasingly hands-off Federal Reserve.

The latest figures show that the U.S. economy grew in the fourth quarter at its slowest pace since the beginning of 2018. The growth still beat economists' forecasts, however, which sent bond yields higher. A bright spot in the latest report shows that for the full year, the economy grew at its fastest pace since 2015.

Several tech companies delivered subpar results. HP plunged after reporting weak sales of printers and computers. Cloud-computing company Box nose-dived after giving delivering a weak forecast. Priceline.com parent Booking Holding fell after warning of a slowdown of sales in Europe.

Stocks in Asia, especially South Korea, fell after talks between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ended abruptly without an agreement. By cutting short their meeting, the two leaders foiled hopes for an agreement with tangible progress toward ending the North's nuclear program that could have raised confidence across the region.

Investors are still waiting for more details on trade negotiations between the U.S. and China. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has raised doubts about progress, telling lawmakers that "much still needs to be done" before the sides can reach an agreement over Beijing's technology strategy and other issues.

THE QUOTE: "You have a market that's trying to digest what's next right now; really all week it's been kind of consolidating a little bit," said Willie Delwiche, investment strategist at Baird. "You also have month-end selling, which is not uncommon."

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average was down 38 points, or 0.2 percent, to 25,947 as of 3:29 p.m. The S&P 500 index slipped 0.1 percent, while the Nasdaq composite index dropped 0.2 percent. Major indexes in Europe closed mostly higher.

COMPUTER CRASH: HP plunged 18.3 percent after it reported that weaker printer and computer sales hurt fiscal first-quarter profit. It also expects printer supplies revenue to fall in 2019 because of weaker global demand.

The weak sales report and forecast shaved 16 percent off the stock.

BAD TRIP: Booking Holdings slumped 10.9 percent after the travel websites operator gave investors a weak forecast on lower room bookings in Europe.

ENERGIZED: Monster Beverage rose on a nearly 9.2 percent sales increase for its signature energy drinks. The higher drink sales pushed revenue and profit beyond Wall Street forecasts and the company plans to buy back $500 million in stock. The stock gained 10 percent.

RETAIL RISING: J.C. Penney surged 20.4 percent, putting it on track for its best ever one-day gain, after the department store operator beat investor forecasts for the fourth-quarter. The retailer had warned of a weak holiday sales period and its profit tumbled more than 70 percent. Still, the results and a key sales measure for retailers weren't as bad as Wall Street expected.

The company, which has been closing stores for years, said it would turn the lights out at another 18 department stores, as well as nine home and furniture stores.

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