By Steven Russolillo and Michael Wursthorn
The Dow Jones Industrial Average recouped most of its losses Thursday, but remained in the red as mixed earnings reports and a worsening viral outbreak unsettled investors.
The blue-chip index, as of 4 p.m. Eastern time, was down 26 points, or less than 0.1%, to 29160, nearly recovering from a pullback of more than 200 points earlier in the session. Shares of Boeing rose for the first time in four trading sessions to help the Dow pare its decline. The S&P 500 rose 0.1% on the day, while the Nasdaq Composite Index added 0.2%.
At the same time, investors eased their buying of haven assets, including gold and U.S. Treasury bonds.
But falling shares of insurer Travelers and consumer-products giant Procter & Gamble held the Dow back from entering positive territory. Both reported mixed earnings results that sent shares of the companies lower.
"Investors are looking at these earnings to get a gauge on the consumer, " said Tom Martin, a senior portfolio manager at Globalt Investments. "That's really the power driver of the economy over the last year."
For the most part, earnings have been coming in ahead of expectations, analysts and investors said. Nearly 70% of the 74 companies that reported results through Thursday morning have beaten analysts' expectations, according to FactSet.
"This is not a part in the cycle where you get 10% earnings growth," said Lars Kreckel, global equity strategist at Legal & General Investment Management. "But it's enough to keep equity markets where we are today."
Companies that fall short of expectations have been getting a cold shoulder from investors though. About 47% of companies that reported results so far have seen shares slide in subsequent trading sessions, according to FactSet. In the third quarter, just 38% of companies saw shares slide after reporting earnings.
Shares in New York opened under pressure following selloffs in Europe and Asia. The Shanghai Composite suffered its biggest drop since May, sinking 2.8% on the final day of trading before the market closes for the Lunar New Year holiday period. The Stoxx Europe 600 slid 0.7%, notching its biggest loss so far this year.
The Chinese government on Thursday locked down Wuhan, where the new coronavirus originated, as well as a second city in a dramatic escalation of efforts to contain the outbreak that has killed at least 17 people and infected more than 500 so far.
Concerns about what the outbreak may mean for economic growth in China and elsewhere weighed on stocks in other parts of the world, said Lars Kreckel, global equity strategist at Legal & General Investment Management.
"What's going on right now is it's the coronavirus in China: that's worse than expected," Peter Garnry, head of equity strategy at Saxo Bank. "What the market is trying to price in is what is the economic cost."
The fallout from the outbreak also touched energy companies around the world. Crude oil prices slid 2.1% to $55.54 a barrel as investors worried the virus could dampen demand for the commodity.
Energy stocks, which are sensitive to swings in oil prices, fell 0.3% in recent trading.
Corporate earnings accounted for the biggest swings in individual stocks though.
Travelers led the Dow industrials lower, falling 4.8%, after the insurer said it faced higher-than-expected claims payments for lawsuits and jury awards.
Shares of Procter & Gamble slipped 0.6% after the consumer-products giant's sales in the latest quarter fell short of analysts' expectations.
Later in the day, Intel is scheduled to report results. Shares of the chip maker rose 1.5% ahead of the report.
-- Caitlin Ostroff contributed to this article.
Write to Steven Russolillo at email@example.com and Michael Wursthorn at Michael.Wursthorn@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 23, 2020 16:19 ET (21:19 GMT)
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