Stocks drifted to a slightly lower finish Monday as investors sifted through a blend of discouraging economic data from China and Japan as well as ongoing uncertainty over Russia’s incursion into Ukraine.
Major market indexes pared their losses as the day drew to a close, aided by some high-flying stocks, including Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Chiquita Brands International and Southwest Airlines.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 index edged down 0.87 of a point to close at 1,877.17. It had been down 11 points earlier. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 34.04 points, or 0.2 percent, to 16,418.68. The Nasdaq composite fell 1.77 points, or less than 0.1 percent, to 4,334.45.
Six of the 10 sectors of the S&P 500 index ended lower, led by industrials. Mining company Cliffs Natural Resources was among the biggest decliners in the S&P 500, shedding 70 cents, or 3.8 percent to $17.95.
The S&P 500 index notched record highs three times last week as investors grew more confident that weak U.S. economic reports in recent weeks were a reflection of unusually severe winter weather, not a broad economic slowdown. Better-than-expected payroll numbers last week also helped encourage investors.
Monday marked the fifth anniversary of the current bull market in stocks. The S&P 500 index bottomed out on March 9, 2009, and is up about 177 percent since then. The run-up over the past five years has been helped by stimulus from the Federal Reserve, record corporate profits, the economic recovery and companies repurchasing their own stock.
This is a light week for market-moving economic data and corporate earnings. But investors will be watching the latest data on retail sales, due out Thursday, and a gauge of consumer confidence due out Friday.
Among the stocks bucking the slight downward turn Monday was Alexion Pharmaceuticals. The company climbed the most of any stock in the S&P 500 index, vaulting $11.95, or 7.1 percent, to $180. The company raised its 2014 earnings forecast, saying the national health agency of France will reimburse it for past sales of its drug Soliris.
Chiquita was another gainer. It agreed to combine with Dublin-based Fyffes to become the world’s top banana company. The stock-for-stock transaction announced Monday creates a global banana and fresh produce company with $4.6 billion in annual revenue. Chiquita rose $1.16, or 10.7 percent, to $12.
Southwest Airlines’ stock touched a 52-week high of $23.67 early in the day before ending up 50 cents, or 2.2 percent, to $23.60. The carrier got a boost after it reported that passengers are flying more miles, a trend that helped send a key revenue figure higher last month.