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U.S. stocks wobble mostly higher after virus cases spike

ON THE FLOOR — In this Feb. 6, file photo trader Gordon Charlop works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. -- Associated Press

Major U.S. stock indexes wobbled mostly higher in afternoon trading Thursday after China reported a spike in cases of the new virus that threatens to crimp economic growth and hurt businesses worldwide.

China reported the sharp rise in cases and deaths after the hardest-hit province of Hubei took a new approach to classifying and diagnosing the virus. The latest figures dashed hopes that the spread of the outbreak was peaking, which had helped lift stocks throughout the week.

Even so, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq were holding on to slight gains and were within striking distance of finishing with record highs for the fourth straight day.

Communication services stocks and companies that rely on consumer spending led the gainers. Facebook rose 1.5 percent, Starbucks picked up 2.1 percent and Walmart added 1.2 percent.

Technology and utilities stocks also rose. Fidelity National Information Services climbed 5.4 percent, while Duke Energy added 3.4 percent.

Those gains outweighed losses in energy and health care stocks. Marathon Oil dropped 5.7 percent, Mylan slid 2.8 percent.

Travel-related companies fell broadly. Airlines helped pull industrial sector stocks lower. United Airlines fell 1.9 percent. MGM Resorts shed 4.9 percent and cruise line operator Carnival fell 1.7 percent

Bond yields headed lower as investors sought safer investments. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 1.61 percent from 1.62 percent late Wednesday.

KEEPING SCORE: The S&P 500 index rose 0.1 percent as of 2:08 p.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 33 points, or 0.1 percent, to 29,517. It was down as much as 205 points earlier. The Nasdaq gained 0.2 percent. The Russell 2000 index of smaller company stocks rose 0.3 percent.

Markets in Europe and Asia finished mostly lower.

VIRUS UPDATE: The change in how Hubei determines and reports cases of the new virus pushed the number of cases worldwide to more than 60,000.

The outbreak is already hurting businesses and more of them are warning that the effects will linger through the year. Organizers of the world’s biggest mobile technology fair cancelled the event, set to take place in Spain, because of health and safety concerns over the outbreak.

MGM Resorts International, which gets about 20 percent of its revenue from the gambling haven of Macau, pulled its profit forecast for 2020. Fashion company Ralph Lauren warned that the viral outbreak cut into fourth-quarter sales by an estimated $55 million to $70 million.

FLYING ABOVE THE STORM: Alaska Air Group rose 1.6 percent after the airline said it will cooperate more closely with American Airlines on West Coast service. The airlines asked for government permission to expand revenue-sharing to cover international flights in Seattle and Los Angeles.

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