Company News

US STOCKS-Wall St falls as health, tech stocks drag

* Weekly jobless claims rise, but labor market remains strong

* February monthly labor data expected on Friday

* Herbalife falls after database snafu botches growth numbers

* Indexes down: Dow 0.29 pct, S&P 0.24 pct, Nasdaq 0.39 pct (Updates to early afternoon)

By Tanya Agrawal

March 3 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were lower in early afternoon trading on Thursday, dragged down by health and tech stocks, and as investors awaited the crucial monthly jobs report.

Earlier in the day, data showed weekly jobless claims rose unexpectedly. The data comes ahead of the comprehensive labor report for February on Friday. The report is expected to show an addition of 190,000 jobs, compared with 151,000 in January.

Other data showed that employment in the services sector contracted in February for the first time in two years and factory orders fell.

While concerns linger over the state of the global economy, upbeat data from major economies this week and signs of a rebound in commodity prices have helped ease some of those worries.

Brent crude prices, which are up about 35 percent from last month’s lows, were little changed at $36.90. U.S. crude was down 0.3 percent at $34.55.

“We’ve had a pretty nice run off late because of oil prices steadying and positive macro economic data,” said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities in New York.

“Investors are in a wait-and-see mode ahead of the jobs report tomorrow and there is some profit taking too.”

At 12:42 p.m. ET (1742 GMT) the Dow Jones industrial average was down 48.49 points, or 0.29 percent, at 16,850.83, the S&P 500 was down 4.81 points, or 0.24 percent, at 1,981.64 and the Nasdaq Composite was down 18.27 points, or 0.39 percent, at 4,685.15.

Seven of the 10 major S&P 500 sectors were lower, with the health index’s 0.96 percent fall leading the decliners. The tech index was down 0.7 percent. Microsoft was off 1.96 percent, while Johnson & Johnson fell 1.2 percent.

Solid economic data could bolster expectations that the Federal Reserve remains on track to raise interest rates this year. Fed funds futures suggested traders are pricing in a 61 percent chance of a rate hike by year-end. The central bank meets next on March 15-16.

“The likelihood of the Fed raising in March is very low,” said Jeff Powell, managing partner of Polaris Greystone Financial Group in California.

Powell said a weak jobs report might spook the market but the general trend is positive.

As of Wednesday’s close, the S&P 500 index is down only 2.8 percent, recovering from a fall of over 10 percent earlier this year.

Shares of Herbalife were down 7.7 percent at $52.03 after the company said it had overstated growth in the number of new members in some instances due to a database error.

Kroger was down 8.6 percent at $37.17 after the largest U.S. supermarket operator’s quarterly sales missed estimates.

Joy Global was up 13.1 percent at $15.10 after the mining equipment maker maintained its forecast for the year.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,902 to 1,036. On the Nasdaq, 1,538 issues rose and 1,149 fell.

The S&P 500 index showed nine new 52-week highs and one new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 30 new highs and 17 new lows. (Reporting by Tanya Agrawal; Editing by Anil D’Silva)