US stocks tick lower as pandemic damage to economy piles up

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks are edging further away from their records on Thursday, following more evidence that the pandemic is tightening its grip on the economy and as investors wait to see if Congress will do anything about it.

The S&P 500 was 0.3% lower in early trading, a day after pulling back 0.8% from its all-time high. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 65 points, or 0.2%, at 30,003, as of 9:42 a.m. Eastern time, and the Nasdaq composite was 0.3% lower.

Treasury yields wobbled but were holding relatively steady after a report showed 853,000 U.S. workers applied for unemployment benefits last week. That was more than economists expected and an acceleration from the prior week. It’s also the latest reminder that the pandemic is doing more damage to the economy in the near term, even if prospects are rising that a COVID-19 vaccine will get the economy healthy in the longer term.

Economists and investors have been imploring Congress to deliver more financial support in the meantime, to help carry the economy until it can stand on its own. After months of partisan bickering and no progress on Capitol Hill, momentum seemed to swing higher recently for a deal. But talks are still mired in deep uncertainty. A bipartisan group of senators has made one proposal, while the White House has made another.

Through this pandemic, when investors have been worried about the health of the overall economy, they’ve often piled into Big Tech stocks for safety. Profits for these companies have proven more resilient to stay-at-home orders, and they’re benefiting from an acceleration of work-from-home and other trends.

But the tech-heavy Nasdaq was also falling on Thursday. A day earlier, the U.S. government and 48 states and districts sued Facebook, accusing it of abusing its market power. Its shares fell 1.9% in morning trading, making it one of the heaviest weights on the market.

Concerns have been building for a while about the threat of heavier regulation on Big Tech companies, after they’ve swelled to such a massive size. The five largest U.S. stocks — Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and Google’s parent company — alone account for nearly 22% of the S&P 500’s total market value.

In Europe, stock markets were subdued even though the European Central Bank delivered another half-trillion of euros ($600 billion) in stimulus for the economy. Coronavirus counts are also spiraling higher on the continent, and its central bank is promising to buy more bonds to push the economy along. Germany’s DAX lost 0.8%, and France’s CAC 40 fell 0.4%. The FTSE 100 in London edged up by 0.1%.

In Asia, markets made modest moves. Japan’s Nikkei 225 slipped 0.2%, South Korea’s Kospi fell 0.3% and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng dipped 0.3%. Stocks in Shanghai were virtually unchanged.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury dipped to 0.92% from 0.93% late Wednesday .A government report released Thursday morning showed that inflation was slightly stronger last month than economists expected, though it still remains modest.