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Major U.S. stock indexes were nearly unchanged Thursday, a day after their steepest drops of the year.
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Major U.S. stock indexes were nearly unchanged Thursday, a day after their steepest drops of the year.
Credit: AP

Stock Markets Take A Breather After Steep Drop

Investors paused to catch their breath Thursday, one day after the stock market suffered its worst drop of the year. Market indexes were flat as investors digested mixed signals about prospects for the U.S. economy.

Consumer spending — a key pillar of the economy — remains strong. Retail sales jumped by 0.7% in July, according to the Commerce Department. After a slow start at the beginning of the year, retail sales have grown for the last five months — a sign that consumers are still feeling good about the economy, with low unemployment and rising wages.

Walmart, the world's biggest retailer, also reported solid sales in the second quarter and raised its profit forecast for the rest of the year.

News from the manufacturing sector is less encouraging. Industrial production slumped in July, with factory output falling 0.4%. The U.S. manufacturing sector is more dependent on exports than the much larger services side of the economy. As a result, factories have suffered more fallout from rising trade tensions.

Disappointing news about manufacturing in China and a report that Germany's economy shrank in the second quarter helped trigger a sharp selloff on Wall Street Wednesday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 both fell about 3%.

Investors were also spooked by news that the yield on 10-year Treasury notes dipped below the yield on 2-year notes — an unusual situation that historically has been a warning sign of a looming recession.

Some observers cautioned that this "inverted yield curve" could be a false alarm in this instance.

"I would really urge on this occasion it may be a less good signal" of a recession, former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen told Fox Business. "I think the U.S. economy has enough strength to avoid that." [Copyright 2019 NPR]