US stocks end mostly down as health insurers slump

VIDEO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (AFP) - Wall Street stocks finished mostly lower with health insurers under pressure as markets continued to take a pause after a nearly two-month surge.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 0.3 per cent to finish the session at 25,985.16.

The broad-based S&P 500 slipped 0.1 per cent to close at 2,792.38, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index edged up 0.1 per cent to 7,554.51.

Analysts have been girding for a retreat or pause after US stocks gained nearly 20 per cent since late December.

"The market is pulling back after a very strong rally," said Adam Sarhan, chief executive of 50 Park Investment. Stocks "are waiting for the next bullish catalyst," he added.

Investors took in stride a second day of testimony from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and a hearing with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who reported "real progress" on talks with China, but said significant work still needs to be undertaken before a final deal is struck.

President Donald Trump's former attorney, Michael Cohen, revealed a litany of charges about his former boss in an explosive hearing that captivated political observers but did not appreciably move stocks.

During the trading session, health insurers UnitedHealth Group and Humana each lost almost 5 per cent, and rival Cigna shed 3.9 per cent after Democratic US Representative Pramila Jayapal introduced "Medicare for all" legislation targeting insurance industry profits.

The Bill is still a long way from becoming law, but the proposal indicates strengthening momentum for the issue among progressive Democrats.

Generic drug company Mylan plunged 15.1 per cent following a disappointing earnings report and forecast.

Meanwhile, Best Buy surged 14.1 per cent after reporting better-than-expected fourth quarter profits. Two other big retailers, Lowe's and TJX, also advanced following earnings reports.