US stock indexes edge lower, head for weekly gains

Stocks headed lower in afternoon trading on Wall Street Friday, erasing modest early gains.

Despite the market’s downward tilt, the S&P 500 index was still on track for a second straight weekly gain.

Trading has been more subdued and cautious on Wall Street, following China’s report Thursday of a surge in cases of a new virus that raised fresh concerns about global economic growth.

Investors had largely set aside uncertainty about the potential economic fallout from the outbreak the past two weeks. Stocks ended lower on Thursday for only the second time this month. Earlier in the week, the S&P 500 and Nasdaq set all-time highs three days in a row.

With U.S. financial markets scheduled to be closed Monday for the President’s Day holiday, it’s likely some traders were looking to take some profits now in order to get ahead of potential negative headlines about the virus over the long weekend, said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA.

“We’re seeing gravitation toward the more defensive sectors within the S&P, like utilities, real estate and consumer staples,” he said.

Auto manufacturers, retailers and other companies that rely on consumer spending were among the decliners. Ford Motor and General Motors were down 1.9%. Target slid 1.6%.

Energy, industrial and financial sector stocks also fell. Marathon Oil slid 4.4%, J.B. Hunt Transportation Services fell 3.4% and American International Group dropped 4.6%.

Technology companies led the gainers. Chipmaker Nvidia was a standout, jumping 7.1.% after it handily beat analysts’ profit forecasts for the fourth quarter.

The real estate and utilities sectors also held up well as government bond yields fell, making companies that pay higher dividends more attractive. Digital Realty Trust climbed 3.5% and American Water Works rose 1.6%.

Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 1.59% from

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