Stocks deflated from session highs on Thursday as Wall Street digested public testimony from former FBI Director James Comey.
The S&P 500 was down 0.17%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average declined 0.14%, and the Nasdaq rose 0.07%. The Nasdaq and Dow hit intraday highs earlier Thursday.
Trading volume on the S&P 500 sat at 1.46 billion shares in trading Thursday afternoon. The full-day average daily volume over the past three months is 2.05 billion shares.
In comments to the Senate, Comey said, "I take the president at his word I was fired because of the Russia investigation." When asked, Comey said he had "no doubt" that Russian government officials had attempted to interfere in the 2016 election.
Comey also refrained from calling President Donald Trump's request to drop the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn an attempt to obstruct justice -- he said it was not "for me to say" what Trump's intent was, though he did find the request "very disturbing."
Trump's outside counsel on Thursday responded to Comey's testimony by criticizing his leak of internal memos. Marc Kasowitz said in a statement that Comey had "admitted" to sharing his memo with a friend who then leaked to the press. Kasowitz also said that Trump did not pressure Comey.
Comey detailed his numerous meetings with Trump since January in his pre-released opening statement on Wednesday afternoon before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Comey said he had not told Trump that he would cease investigations into Flynn despite Trump's request. Comey also said that Trump had said, "I need loyalty. I expect loyalty." Comey based his testimony on his recollections and a series of memos composed after several meetings.
Trump fired Comey in May while the FBI was investigating the Trump transition team's ties to Russia. News reports indicated that Trump had asked Comey for his loyalty and requested he stop investigating Flynn.
"The Comey testimony provides ammunition for both parties, but the so-called 'smoking gun' is absent," said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial. "For the next 12-18 months investors will factor in headline leaks from political insiders and try to interpret any signals from the Mueller investigation. However, what investors want above all else, is to have the president's agenda translated into action, viable action."
Financials stocks led markets on Thursday. Bank of America (BAC) - Get Report , Citigroup (C) - Get Report , JPMorgan (JPM) - Get Report , and Wells Fargo (WFC) - Get Report each moved higher. The Financial Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLF) - Get Report rose 1.6%.
Also on Thursday, U.K. citizens will head to the polls as the country continues to mourn terrorist attacks in Manchester and London in the past few weeks. Prime Minister Theresa May holds the lead in the polls over Labor's Jeremy Corbyn. In the wake of the London attack over the weekend, May has hardened her position against extremism, arguing that she would alter human rights laws if needed to protect the British people. The election results will likely not be fully tabulated until Friday morning in London.
"There are a few certainties in this election, but one thing we almost know for sure is that turbulence in financial markets is likely to intensify in the short-term as Britain readjusts," Tom Elliott, deVere Group's international investment strategist, wrote in a note.
The European Central Bank opted to leave rates unchanged on Thursday, as expected. The central bank said that it expects interest rates to "remain at present levels for an extended period of time, and well past the horizon" of its asset purchase program. That language was altered to remove a previous reference to rates remaining at present "or lower levels for an extended period of time."
Eurozone growth projections were also increased. The ECB anticipates GDP growth of 1.9% in 2017, up 10 basis points from forecasts set in March. For 2018 and 2019, eurozone GDP is expected to increase by 1.8% and 1.7%, respectively. In a press conference Thursday, ECB President Mario Draghi said that the central bank had seen an uptick in economic activity since last meeting in April, though monetary accommodation was still required.
"Inflation is persistently low and this will mean that the ECB will only remove accommodation at a glacial pace," Aberdeen Asset Management senior investment manager Patrick O'Donnell. "For the time being, the doves on the governing council are clearly in control. We probably won't see anything significant from the ECB until September, by which time they'll know more about this conundrum of low inflation."
Jobless claims in the U.S. fell in the past week, another sign of a tightening labor market. The number of new claims for unemployment benefits declined by 10,000 to 245,000, according to the Labor Department. The less-volatile, four-week average increased 2,250 to 242,000.
Crude oil prices edged lower on Thursday after its worst day in three months suffered a day earlier. Commodities had plummeted after the Energy Information Administration reported a surprise increase in domestic stockpiles.
West Texas Intermediate crude was 0.2% lower at $45.64 a barrel.
Valeant Pharmaceuticals (VRX) rose on Thursday after agreeing to sell iNova Pharmaceuticals for $930 million in an all-cash deal. iNova will be purchased by a company jointly owned by funds managed by private-equity firms Pacific Equity Partners and the Carlyle Group. The deal is expected to close in the second half of the year.
J.M. Smucker (SJM) - Get Report fell after topping earnings and sales estimates over its recent quarter. The owner of food brands Jif and Pillsbury earned an adjusted $1.80 a share, 8 cents higher than anticipated. Sales declined 1% to $1.78 billion, though came in higher than analysts' target of $1.77 billion.
Alibaba (BABA) - Get Report shares climbed more than 11% after China's biggest e-commerce company forecast another massive surge in full year revenue. Alibaba Chief Financial Officer Maggie Wu said annual sales will rise between 45% and 49% in the 2018 fiscal year, a figure that topped analysts' forecasts and implies revenue of up to $34.3 billion, well ahead of the $31.42 billion expected, according to a Bloomberg survey.
Nordstrom (JWN) - Get Report shares were up almost 11% Thursday after the retailer announced that the Nordstrom family has formed a group to explore the possibility of a "going private transaction." The company's board of directors has formed a "special committee" comprised of independent directors to act on behalf of the company. The special committee has retained Centerview Partners to serve as its financial adviser and Sidley Austin to serve as its legal counsel.
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