(Reuters) - Wall Street closed slightly lower on Tuesday, inching back from an initial selloff that followed deadly attacks in Brussels, as declines in consumer and telecom stocks offset a jump in healthcare shares.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bombings at Brussels airport and a rush-hour metro train that killed at least 30 people and triggered security alerts across Europe.
Global risk markets faltered before limping up, while traditional safe havens gold and government bonds firmed as the events in the de facto capital of the European Union unfolded.
The tepid stock market recovery followed earlier patterns of a selloff in reaction to violent events, such as the November attacks in Paris, then a quick recovery.
“When you have an incident like this, you suddenly have a surge in uncertainty because people don’t know what the scale of it is,” said David Kelly, chief global strategist at JP Morgan Funds in New York. “As uncertainty goes down, stocks go up.”
The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI closed down 41.3 points, or 0.23 percent, to 17,582.57, the S&P 500 .SPX lost 1.8 points, or 0.09 percent, to 2,049.8 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC ha added 12.79 points, or 0.27 percent, to 4,821.66.
Three of the 10 major S&P sectors were higher, with the health index .SPXHC up 0.9 percent, leading the advancers. Consumer staples .SPLRCS, down 0.75 percent, were the biggest loser.
Airline and travel-related stocks took a hit after the Brussels attacks.
Online travel booker Priceline (PCLN.O) was one of the biggest weights on the S&P 500.
The Dow Jones U.S. Travel & Leisure index .DJUSCG slipped 0.7 percent. The NYSE Arca Airline index .XAL was off 0.9 percent.
Apple (AAPL.O) rose 0.8 percent at $106.72, becoming the biggest boost to the S&P 500 index.
Oil prices steadied after an initial rush to safer assets, with U.S. crude CLc1 futures off 0.17 percent to $41.45, rebounding from a session low of $40.97.
In corporate news, shares of Lumber Liquidators (LL.N) were up 16 percent at $13.94 after the company settled with a California clean air agency.
About 6.2 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, below the 8.14 billion average over the last 20 sessions. Volume is expected to stay light ahead of the Easter holiday.
Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,595 to 1,393, for a 1.15-to-1 ratio on the downside; on the Nasdaq, 1,453 issues fell and 1,337 advanced for a 1.09-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.
The S&P 500 posted 15 new 52-week highs and 1 new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 34 new highs and 20 new lows.
Additional reporting by Abhiram Nandakumar and Tanya Agrawal in Bengaluru; Editing by Don Sebastian and Nick Zieminski