November 7, 2014 / 12:09 PM / 5 years ago

Wall St. ends flat; healthcare off on new Obamacare challenge

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks closed little changed on Friday, pressured by renewed uncertainty in healthcare stocks and by Disney shares, even as October payrolls data pointed to a resilient economy in the face of sluggish global growth.

The S&P 500 and Dow industrials closed at record highs and rose for a third consecutive week.

Health insurers fell sharply after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to a key part of the Obamacare health law that, if successful, would limit the availability of federal health insurance subsidies for millions of Americans.

“Any kind of change in how the healthcare law is interpreted is going to affect healthcare stocks, probably insurers first,” said Kim Forrest, senior equity research analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh.

“Whenever the rules have potential to change everybody gets nervous.”

UnitedHealth Group (UNH.N) fell 2.7 percent to $93.61, ranking as the largest weight on the Dow industrials. Hospital operator Tenet Healthcare (THC.N) fell 6.5 percent to $47.85 while managed care facilities operator Humana Inc (HUM.N) was down 6.6 percent to $130.58.

Healthcare stocks had been pressured from the opening bell by Salix Pharmaceuticals SLXP.O, which closed down 34 percent at $91.47 in its biggest-ever daily drop.

Salix on Thursday slashed its full-year forecast given swollen drug inventories, an issue that dissuaded Allergan from acquiring the drugmaker, people familiar with the matter said.

On the flip side, employers added 214,000 jobs last month, below the 231,000 expected in a Reuters poll of economists, while gains in the previous two months were revised higher. The unemployment rate fell to 5.8 percent, the lowest since July 2008, even as more people entered the labor force.

“With data like this the Federal Reserve doesn’t feel compelled to come in and help, or squash a too-hot economy,” said Fort Pitt Capital’s Forrest. “No more Fed (asset) buying but also no rate hikes quite yet.”

Walt Disney Co (DIS.N) fell 2.2 percent to $90 a day after earnings met expectations. The stock had closed Thursday at $92, a record high.

First Solar (FSLR.O) sank 10.8 percent to $50.29 as the biggest decliner on the S&P 500 a day after the company said it would not spin off its solar power plants into a separate, publicly traded entity as some of its competitors have done.

Energy shares on the S&P 500 .SPNY were the day’s strongest performers, rising 1 percent. The sector is down 1.4 percent so far this year.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI rose 19.46 points, or 0.11 percent, to 17,573.93, the S&P 500 .SPX gained 0.71 points, or 0.03 percent, to 2,031.92 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 5.94 points, or 0.13 percent, to 4,632.53.

For the week, the Dow rose 1.1 percent and the S&P added 0.7 percent in their third straight weekly gain. The Nasdaq closed the week up 0.04 percent.

A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange shortly after the markets open in New York November 7, 2014. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 1,869 to 1,188, for a 1.57-to-1 ratio on the upside; on the Nasdaq, 1,370 issues fell and 1,321 advanced for a 1.04-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.

The benchmark S&P 500 index posted 52 new 52-week highs and one new low; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 101 new highs and 58 new lows.

Volume on U.S. exchanges totaled about 6.5 billion shares, compared to the 7.24 billion average in the last five sessions.

Editing by Bernadette Baum and James Dalgleish

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