MARKET SNAPSHOT: Stocks Under Pressure As 'life-threatening' Hurricane Irma Aims For Florida

By Sara Sjolin and Anora Mahmudova, MarketWatch Features Dow Jones Newswires

Fears of potential North Korean missile launch spook investors, too

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U.S. stocks were switching between small gains and losses Friday, as investors opted to err on the side of caution, bracing for a potential missile test by North Korea and for Hurricane Irma to hit the Florida coast at the weekend.

Stock indexes perked up briefly after news that the House of Representatives passed legislation extending the U.S. debt limit (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/house-passes-hurricane-aid-plus-extension-of-debt-limit-and-government-funding-2017-09-08-10914110) and government funding through Dec. 8. The bill, already approved by the Senate, now goes to President Donald Trump for his signature.

But modest gains were short lived and all three major benchmarks were on track to end the week with losses.

The S&P 500 index was off by 1 point, or 0.1%, at 2,461 and was set to book a 0.7% weekly loss. Of the 11 main sectors, nine were trading in negative territory.

"Nobody really believed that we would have a debt ceiling problem, but certainty that it's not going to be a problem is worth a couple of ticks higher," said Steve Chiavarone, portfolio manager at Federated Global Allocation Fund.

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Chiavarone said in the absence of earnings news until October, there is a potential for a small pullback.

"We've reduced our overweight allocation to stocks in the short term as we think the S&P 500 could drop to 2,380-2,400 levels," Chiavarone said.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average turned higher and was up by 47 points, or 0.2%, to 21,832, though still on track to end the week 0.9% lower. Travelers Companies was leading the gains, up 3.1%

The Nasdaq Composite Index declined 18 points, or 0.3%, to 6,380 and was set to book a 0.8% loss over the week.

"It's no surprise to see a waning of risk appetite into a weekend that looks likely to see another hurricane hit the U.S. Especially with the continued geopolitical threat from North Korea and after overnight trade data from China (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/china-exports-up-but-strong-yuan-a-drag-2017-09-08) was rather mixed, begging questions about global growth," said Mike van Dulken, analyst at Accendo Markets.

The dollar continued its descent Friday, with the ICE Dollar Index falling 0.4% to 91.272 and facing its worst week since May (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/dollar-facing-worst-week-since-may-hit-by-geopolitical-tensions-and-falling-yields-2017-09-08). U.S. yields also fell, with the yield on 10-year Treasurys sliding closer to 2%.

The weakness this week comes as investors have grappled with the increasing geopolitical threat from North Korea and the most powerful ever Atlantic storm barreling toward the U.S.

North Korea last weekend tested its biggest nuclear bomb to date, and the regime is feared to be preparing a missile launch (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/north-korea-is-getting-ready-for-another-possible-icbm-launch-says-south-korea-2017-09-04) on Saturday to mark the celebration of its founding day. The last time Pyongyang fired off a missile in August, it crashed into the Pacific Ocean just 575 miles east of Japan.

Read:Investors are in denial about the rising risk of war with North Korea (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/investors-are-in-denial-about-the-rising-risk-of-war-with-north-korea-2017-09-07)

Closer to home, traders have monitored the path of Hurricane Irma that is gradually moving closer to south Florida (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/hurricane-irma-downgraded-to-category-4-but-remains-extremely-dangerous-on-its-path-to-florida-2017-09-08) and is expected to make landfall late Saturday or early Sunday. The storm system has already wreaked havoc on a string of Caribbean islands, leaving at least 13 people dead and buildings on two small islands--Barbuda and St. Martin--almost 100% destroyed.

The National Hurricane Center warned (http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/news/AL112017_key_messages.png?036) that Irma's expected Florida landfall will be a "life-threatening situation" and advised residents to follow evacuation orders from officials.

As devastating as the hurricanes are, they are likely boost the economy, according to New York Federal Reserve Bank President William Dudley. (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/feds-dudley-says-hurricanes-harvey-irma-to-give-unfortunate-boost-to-us-economy-2017-09-08)

"The long-run effect of these disasters, unfortunately, is it actually lifts economic activity because you have to rebuild all the things that have been damaged by the storms," Dudley said in an interview with CNBC (https://www.cnbc.com/2017/09/08/feds-dudley-hurricanes-will-boost-economic-activity-over-the-long-run.html).

Chiavarone agreed that rebuilding houses and replacing cars could boost the two sectors that showed softness lately.

Among big insurers, shares of Everest Re Group Ltd.(RE) have lost 15% this week, XL Group Ltd.(XL) is down 11%.

Stock movers: Shares of Equifax Inc.(EFX) tumbled 15% after the company late Thursday disclosed that personal data of 143 million Americans, including Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers and credit card numbers, had been exposed in a hack (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/equifax-breach-risks-143-million-americans-data-stock-plunges-13-2017-09-07).

American Outdoor Brands Corp.(AOBC) plunged 17% after the gun maker posted a loss in the first fiscal quarter.

Shares of Tintri Inc. tumbled 24% after it late Thursday reported a second-quarter loss (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/tintri-plunges-after-first-post-ipo-earnings-report-2017-09-07).

Cloudera Inc.(CLDR) climbed 3.8% after the software company late Thursday reported earnings that easily beat forecasts (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/cloudera-rebounds-after-earnings-beat-2017-09-07).

Other markets: Stocks across Asia closed mostly lower (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/asian-markets-waver-after-yen-peaks-at-10-month-high-2017-09-07) as the fallout from Hurricane Irma and North Korea tensions weighed on investors' minds there as well. European markets were also lower.

Crude oil prices dropped sharply and headed for the lowest finish in a week in the wake of Hurricane Harvey and slow recovery of refineries. Meanwhile, gold prices moved modestly higher.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

September 08, 2017 12:13 ET (16:13 GMT)