Wall Street dips on new jobless claims

US stocks edged lower yesterday as an unexpected rise in initial jobless claims and unimpressive July retail sales dimmed optimism ahead of the monthly payrolls report.

Investors were cautious before today’s jobs report, and after a 10 per cent rise in the S&P 500 since July 2. Yesterday’s data showed initial claims for jobless benefits rose to 479,000, the highest level since early April.

The Dow Jones industrial average slipped 5.45 points, or 0.05 per cent, to 10,674.98. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index dropped 1.43 points, or 0.13 per cent, to 1,125.81. The Nasdaq Composite Index lost 10.51 points, or 0.46 per cent, to 2,293.06.

Economists are expecting today’s US Labor Department report to show a drop of 65,000 in non-farm payrolls in July as temporary US Census Bureau jobs dried up. Private employers are expected to have added 90,000 jobs.

Weakness in consumer spending trends also stayed in focus as 28 retailers reported that July same-store sales that rose only 2.9 per cent -- falling short of analysts’ expectations for a 3.1 per cent gain.

The Morgan Stanley Retail index shed 0.4 per cent.

After five straight days of gains, the Morgan Stanley Healthcare Payor index dropped 0.9 per cent, dragged lower by Molina Healthcare, which tumbled 10.7 per cent to $28.31 after the health insurer posted quarterly results that fell short of revenue expectations.

The drop in Molina shares overshadowed a 5.6 per cent gain in Cigna to $33.96 after the insurer reported a far higher-than-expected profit in the second quarter and raised its full-year forecast.

Shares of grain companies rose more than five per cent yesterday amid expectations that their wheat exports will be boosted by the worst drought in 130 years in Russia.

Volume was light, with about 6.49bn shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the American Stock Exchange and Nasdaq, the third lowest for the year.

Declining stocks outnumbered advancing ones on the New York Stock Exchange by a ratio of about 17-to-13, while on the Nasdaq, about two stocks fell for every one that rose.