NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Wall Street was lower on Thursday as healthcare stocks slipped, while strong economic data raised the prospects of tighter monetary policy.
A report showed the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits fell last week to a near 43-year low. The data comes ahead of a crucial monthly jobs report that will influence the Federal Reserve's decision on interest rates.
A growing number of Fed officials have argued for higher rates as the labour market remains robust and inflation inches towards the central bank's 2 per cent target.
"Good economic news will be bad news for the markets," said Phil Davis, managing partner at PSW Investments in PSW Investments in Woodland Park, New Jersey.
Traders raised the odds of a rate hike to 64 per cent for December, up from 60 per cent before the jobless claims report was released, according to the CME Group's FedWatch tool.
At 9:38 a.m. ET (9:38 p.m Singapore time), the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 80.26 points, or 0.44 per cent, at 18,200.77. The S&P 500 was down 5.73 points, or 0.27 per cent, at 2,154. The Nasdaq Composite was down 18.74 points, or 0.35 per cent, at 5,297.28.
The S&P healthcare sector fell 0.82 per cent and weighed the most on the benchmark index.
Johnson & Johnson shares fell 0.9 per cent after the US Department of Homeland Security issued a warning on the company's insulin pumps. Pfizer fell 1.06 per cent after agreeing to sell its infusion therapy business to ICU Medical Inc for US$1 billion in cash and stock.
Eight of the 11 major S&P 500 sectors were lower, with real estate falling the most by 1.04 percent. Energy and financials were the bright spots.
The S&P 500 index showed seven new 52-week highs and five new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 22 new highs and 10 new lows.