Wall St. ends flat as media stocks slump, healthcare gains

(Reuters) - Wall Street ended little changed on Thursday after a moderate late-day rally as media stocks, which slumped on negative business updates from Walt Disney and Comcast, were offset by gains in healthcare shares.

Comcast CMCSA.O dropped 6.2 percent after the cable operator warned of subscriber losses, while Disney shares fell 4.4 percent after the company cautioned about its profit growth. The S&P 500 media index .SPLRCME ended down 3.6 percent.

Gains in healthcare stocks such as AbbVie ABBV.N and Bristol-Myers Squibb BMY.N buoyed indexes, while strength in Microsoft MSFT.O and Amazon AMZN.O helped keep the tech-heavy Nasdaq in positive territory.

Investors were tracking Hurricane Irma, which was bearing down on Florida on the heels of devastation in Texas caused by Hurricane Harvey. Irma plowed past the Dominican Republic toward Haiti after devastating a string of Caribbean islands.

With Irma looming, shares of insurers were weaker, with the Dow Jones U.S. Insurance index off 1.9 percent.

“There’s further uncertainty because of Hurricane Irma that is supposed to be hitting Florida. You don’t know what kind of damage it is going to do,” said John Praveen, managing director at Prudential International Investments Advisers in Newark, New Jersey.

Combined with Harvey, in the short term, Praveen said, “maybe it will have a negative impact upon U.S. GDP growth and it might hurt U.S. earnings, and that’s probably why the markets are reacting negatively.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI fell 22.86 points, or 0.1 percent, to 21,784.78, the S&P 500 .SPX lost 0.44 points, or 0.02 percent, to 2,465.1 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 4.56 points, or 0.07 percent, to 6,397.87.

Irma is the latest macro event to keep pressure on U.S. equities following concerns earlier this week about geopolitical tensions involving North Korea, which sparked the biggest one-day drop for the S&P 500 in about three weeks. Adding to concerns, September historically has been the worst month for stocks, according to the Stock Trader’s Almanac.

FILE PHOTO: Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Still, the benchmark S&P remains near all-time highs, with market watchers pointing to strong earnings growth and solid economic data as helping to support stocks.

“For being in such a nervous world right now, the market has done exceptionally well,” said Peter Tuz, president of Chase Investment Counsel in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Investors were also digesting comments from European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, who said the euro’s strength was already weighing on inflation and will be a key factor for the ECB next month when it decides how to proceed with its massive stimulus program.

General Electric GE.N shares sank 3.6 percent, dragging on the S&P and the Dow, after a bearish analyst note.

Apple AAPL.O shares also weighed on major indexes, falling 0.4 percent after a report that the company's new iPhone was hit with production glitches.

Financial shares .SPSY slid 1.7 percent amid a drop in U.S. Treasury yields.

Healthcare .SPXHC was the best-performing sector, rising 1.1 percent. AbbVie ABBV.N shares surged 6.1 percent and Bristol-Myers Squibb gained 5.0 percent after the drugmakers separately reported positive developments for their respective medicines.

Eli Lilly LLY.N shares rose 1.3 percent after it said it would lay off about 8 percent of its employees.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.07-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.06-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

About 6.4 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, above the 5.8 billion daily average over the last 20 sessions.

Additional reporting by Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva and Dan Grebler