Nasdaq falls after weak China data; defensive shares shine

(Reuters) – The Nasdaq fell on Monday after weak data on China’s economy, but the Dow and S&P 500 were little changed as stocks recovered from steeper losses earlier in the session and investors moved into defensive sectors.

FILE PHOTO: The New York Stock Exchange is pictured in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 16, 2021. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Economically sensitive groups such as energy, materials and financials were weaker after China’s factory output and retail sales growth slowed sharply and missed expectations in July, as new COVID-19 outbreaks and floods disrupted business operations.

Healthcare, utilities and consumer staples — generally regarded as defensive sectors — led the way, while the S&P 500 and Dow remained near all-time highs reached on Friday.

“There is always a natural digestion period after a strong run-up in stocks,” said Kristina Hooper, chief global market strategist at Invesco. “Hitting some records last week, certainly there is a likelihood that you get some kind of pause.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 9.05 points, or 0.03%, to 35,524.43, the S&P 500 gained 0.15 points, or 0.00%, to 4,468.15 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 52.95 points, or 0.36%, to 14,769.95.

Investors are looking for signs about when the Federal Reserve will rein in its easy money policies, with minutes from the central bank’s latest meeting due on Wednesday. A resurgence in COVID-19 cases and the impact on the economy are keeping markets on edge, with investors watching earnings reports from major retailers due later in the week.

Investors were also digesting news from Afghanistan, where thousands of civilians desperate to flee the country thronged Kabul airport after the Taliban seized the capital.

“You’ve got a market that’s been going straight up for quite a while. It wants to pause and take profits and I think Afghanistan over the weekend gave the market that excuse,” said Dennis Dick, a trader at Bright Trading LLC.

A rebound in the U.S economy including a stellar second-quarter corporate earnings season along with accommodative monetary policy, has underpinned positive sentiment for equities.

In company news, Tesla shares fell 4.3% after U.S. auto safety regulators said they had opened a formal safety probe into the company’s driver assistance system Autopilot after a series of crashes involving emergency vehicles.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.84-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 2.15-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 63 new 52-week highs and 1 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 63 new highs and 235 new lows.

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