By Mark DeCambre and Anora Mahmudova, MarketWatch
Financials sell off as insurers are hit in wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma
U.S. stock indexes tilted lower in Thursday afternoon trade as investors sold financials and consumer-discretionary shares.
Investors were tracking Hurricane Irma and focused on European Central Bank President Mario Draghi's comments about the future of monetary stimulus in the eurozone. The ECB left key interest rates unchanged, while Draghi indicated that the decision on how to taper a quantitative-easing program will come in October (http://blogs.marketwatch.com/thetell/2017/09/07/ecb-live-blog-is-a-strong-euro-making-mario-draghi-miserable/).
The S&P 500 was last down 2.57 points, or 0.1%, at 2,463, led by a 1.8% loss in financials and a 1% slide in consumer discretionary.
Banking stocks fell sharply following a drop in the 10-year Treasury note yield , which declined 6 basis points to 2.04%. Lower bond yields to which borrowing and lending rates are tied means that banks profit less from the spread between short-term and long-term lending.
The Financials Select Sector SPDR Fund (>> Financial Select Sector SPDR (ETF)) was down 2%, while PowerShares KBW Regional Banking Portfolio ETF (KBWR) was down 2.5%.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average , meanwhile, was off 37 points, or 0.2%, at 21,770. Walt Disney Co. (>> Walt Disney Company (The)) fell 4% after the entertainment giant's CEO Bob Iger lowered Wall Street's full-year guidance for earnings. Another Dow component, Apple Inc. (>> Apple), saw its shares trading lower after The Wall Street Journal reported that it was facing production delays in the making of its new iPhone 8. Its shares were down 0.3%.
The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index was treading water at 6,394.
Some analysts suggested that the combination of a number of devastating hurricanes hitting the U.S. and potential escalation of nuclear threat in North Korea is keeping investors somewhat cautious. Category 5 Hurricane Irma has wrecked a string of Caribbean Islands as it barrels toward the Florida coast.
"Investors don't want to go into the weekend when North Korea is scheduled to show its military prowess during the Founders day celebration without their hedges in place," said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial.
Other analysts noted stocks have remained largely resilient in the face of escalating geopolitical tensions, storm damage, lofty valuations, and central-bank moves.
The major U.S. benchmarks closed higher on Wednesday after congressional leaders and President Donald Trump agreed to extend the debt-limit deadline and fund the government through mid-December.
The agreement raised hopes for more bipartisan deals that would allow the Trump administration to move forward with its promised economic reforms. However, it also raised concerns that divisiveness in the Republican party may limit further policy success, because other GOP leaders weren't in favor of a short-term agreement.
First Take:Trump's deal with 'Chuck and Nancy' may improve chances for his legislative agenda
Hurricane Irma comes just two weeks after Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast, where damages are estimated by AccuWeather to be up to $190 billion .
ECB in focus: The ECB left key interest rates unchanged and expects them to remain at present levels for "extended period". In the accompanying statement, which was virtually identical to the previous one, the central bank said that asset buying will continue at a EUR60 billion ($71 billion) a month through year-end or beyond and quantitative easing could be ramped up if the outlook deteriorates.
The euro strengthened against rivals after Draghi answered questions during the news conference, hitting $1.20 in New York trade. That helped push the ICE Dollar Index down 0.8% to 91.566.
European stocks trimmed earlier gains but were still slightly higher.
Economic news:Initial jobless claims in the period running from Aug. 27 to Sept. 2 surged by 62,000 to 298,000, reaching the highest level since spring 2015, largely due to Hurricane Harvey that left many in Texas unable to work.
Among Federal Reserve speakers, Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester, speaking at the Economic Club of Pittsburgh, said she backs a gradual increase of interest rates.
New York Fed President William Dudley will speak at New York University at 7 p.m. Eastern. Later, Kansas City Fed President Esther George will discuss the U.S. economic outlook at the Omaha Economic Forum in Omaha, Neb., at 8:15 p.m. Eastern.
On Wednesday, Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer said Wednesday that he would resign from the central bank next month.
Stock movers: Shares of GoPro Inc.(>> GoPro Inc) rallied 13% after the wearable camera maker said it expects to be profitable on an adjusted basis in the third quarter.
Shares of RH(>> Restoration Hardware Holdings Inc) soared 43% after the upscale retailer formerly known as Restoration Hardware reported earnings that topped Wall Street estimates late Wednesday.
Amazon.com Inc.(>> Amazon.com) shares rose 1.1% after the online retailer said it plans to open a second headquarters somewhere in North America that will house up to 50,000 employees and cost $5 billion to build and operate.
Facebook Inc.(>> Facebook) shares dipped 0.2% after the company late Wednesday said it traced ad sales totaling $100,000 from Russian accounts , some of which are likely linked to a troll farm in St. Petersburg called the internet Research Agency.
Mastercard Inc.(>> MasterCard) shares jumped 3.4% to trade at a record after the company raised its revenue outlook. Rival Visa Inc. (V) shares also rose, up 1.6%.
Barnes & Noble Inc.(>> Barnes & Noble, Inc.) shares sank 7.3% after the bookseller reported fiscal first-quarter earnings and sales that missed consensus.
Other markets:Asian markets closed mixed , with South Korean and stocks ending higher, but Chinese and Hong Kong lower.
Crude-oil was slightly lower, while gold prices rose 1% to $1,351.70 a troy ounce.
--Sara Sjolin contributed to this article