Wall Street slips as weak economic data offsets earnings strength

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wall Street lost ground on Wednesday as weak U.S. economic data and simmering geopolitical tensions spooked buyers away from the equities market, despite a string of generally positive third-quarter earnings reports.

Technology shares, led by Microsoft Inc MSFT.O, weighed heaviest, pulling all three major U.S. stock averages into the red.

U.S. retail sales contracted in September for the first time in seven months, according to the Commerce Department, in a sign that cracks might be spreading from the troubled manufacturing sector to the broader economy.

“This is perhaps the first indication that the consumer side of the economy is showing signs of stress and perhaps pulling back,” said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment strategist at Inverness Counsel in New York. “The consumer has been looked at as the savior of this economy and this data comes out and it’s rather shocking.”

U.S.-China trade uncertainties increased after the U.S. House of Representatives riled Beijing by passing pro-democracy legislation in support of Hong Kong.

President Donald Trump said he would probably not sign any trade deal before he meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the upcoming APEC Forum in Chile, but said a partial trade deal was being formalized.

“It surprises us that the market isn’t reacting more to the negative issues,” Ghriskey added. “Part of that is the expectation that the Fed is going to lower rates at the end of October and that companies may surprise to the upside like they did in first second quarters.”

Analysts currently expect S&P 500 third-quarter earnings to fall by 3%, which would mark the first year-on-year contraction since the earnings recession that ended in 2016.

However, of the 43 S&P 500 companies to have posted third-quarter results so far, 86% have beaten expectations.

FILE PHOTO: Traders work on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., September 18, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Bank of America BAC.N rose 1.5% after posting its third-quarter profit beat due to growth in advisory fees and loan book expansion.

United Airlines UAL.O advanced 1.9% after the airline beat quarterly profit estimates and increased its 2019 guidance.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI fell 22.82 points, or 0.08%, to 27,001.98, the S&P 500 .SPX lost 5.99 points, or 0.20%, to 2,989.69 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 24.52 points, or 0.3%, to 8,124.18.

Of the 11 major sectors in the S&P 500, six closed in negative territory, with energy .SPNY and tech .SPLRCT suffering the largest percentage losses.

In other stocks news, Eli Lilly & Co LLY.N dropped 1.6% in the wake of a late-stage study that showed its experimental pancreatic cancer treatment failed to meet the overall survival goal.

Drug distributors McKesson MCK.N, AmerisourceBergen ABC.N and Cardinal Health CAH.N rose between 2% and 5% following a report that they were in talks with state and local governments to settle thousands of opioid lawsuits for $18 billion.

General Motors GM.N gained 1.1% after the automaker reached a tentative labor deal with the United Auto Workers union.

Netflix Inc NFLX.O shares jumped more than 10% in post-market trading after posting quarterly results.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.08-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.07-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The S&P 500 posted 17 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 35 new highs and 62 new lows.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 6.06 billion shares, compared with the 6.79 billion average over the last 20 trading days.

Reporting by Stephen Culp in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis