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Stocks held lower on Thursday as disappointment over the European Central Bank's inaction and uncertainty over the Federal Reserve's plans on interest rates left markets rattled.
The S&P 500 was down 0.3%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.3%, and the Nasdaq receded 0.5%. The Nasdaq closed at a record for the second day in a row on Wednesday.
The ECB left its monetary policy unchanged at its September meeting, as expected, and noted that members expect rates to remain at their present level for an "extended period." The bank's main lending rate remained at 0%, while its deposits rate held at minus 0.4%. The bank's marginal lending facility rate holds at 0.25%. The central bank also reiterated that its monthly asset purchases of 80 billion euros will continue until at least March 2017.
The ECB will continue to monitor the eurozone developments and respond accordingly, ECB President Mario Draghi reiterated in a press conference. Draghi said "overall evidence suggests resilience" in the economy in the face of economic uncertainty. Draghi also noted that the ECB would take further action if needed.
"ECB's inaction clearly disappointed a few people," Faward Razaqzada, technical analyst at FOREX.com, wrote in a note. "In truth, no one should have been surprised by the ECB's refusal to extend the date of the QE programme as the Eurozone economy did not really deteriorate since the last meeting on 21st July."
The Fed's rate hike plans continued to be a point of contention on Thursday with more hawkish comments from Fed members.
"It looks like the case for a rate increase is going to be strong in September," Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker told reporters after a congressional hearing in Washington, on Wednesday. Lacker noted that a strong labor market could encourage the Fed to act when members meet in two weeks. Kansas City Fed President Esther George, a voting member of the Federal Open Market Committee, also commented that the labor market is nearing full strength.
A rate hike in September currently has a 15% likelihood, according to CME Group fed funds futures. The majority of investors are banking on a December rate hike. Chances of a move during the Fed's final meeting of the year sit at 40%.
Crude oil prices rose Thursday after a steep and unexpected decline in domestic inventories. The amount of crude stored in U.S. inventories declined by 14.5 million barrels over the past week, the biggest weekly decline since 1999 and far better than an expected increase of 200,000 barrels. A supply glut in the U.S. and ballooning production overseas have pressured crude prices for the past year.
West Texas Intermediate crude oil was up 4.7% to $47.62 a barrel on Thursday.
Weekly jobless claims fell to a two-month low in the past week. The number of new claims for unemployment benefits declined by 4,000 to 259,000, another sign of a tightening labor market. Analysts had expected a reading of 265,000. Claims have remained below 300,000 for 79 weeks in a row, its longest stretch since 1970.
China's economy is improving with imports on the rise in August for the first time since late 2014. The world's second-largest economy also reported a 2.8% decline in exports, a smaller decline than a 4.4% contraction the month earlier. Asian stocks closed mixed with the Shanghai Composite slightly higher.
Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE - Get Report) fell 3.3% after announcing plans to spin off its software assets and merge them with Micro Focus in a deal worth $8.8 billion. The spinoff pares down Hewlett's operations to focus on its data centers and cloud storage.
The tech company also reported a mixed quarter. Third-quarter profit of 49 cents a share beat estimates by 4 cents. Meanwhile, sales fell 7% to $12.2 billion, coming in short by $440 million.
Verint Systems (VRNT - Get Report) also reported a mixed quarter with earnings beating estimates and revenue falling shy of consensus. The company earned 57 cents a share, 3 cents higher than anticipated. Revenue sank 11% to $264.15 million and disappointed by $600,000.
Intel (INTC - Get Report) announced plans to spin off its cybersecurity unit in a deal with private-equity firm TPG. In exchange for a $1.1 billion equity investment, TPG will receive a 51% stake in the business, which Intel will spin off under the name McAfee. The transaction values McAfee's total equity at about $2.2 billion, and the entire company, including debt, at $4.2 billion. Intel paid $7.68 billion for McAfee in 2010.
Barnes & Noble (BKS - Get Report) slumped after slashing its full-year guidance amid a quarterly sales decline. The bookstore chain expects comparable-store sales to decline in the low single digits for its April-ending fiscal year. The company previously guided for sales between flat and 1% growth. Comparable-store sales in its July-ended quarter fell 6%.
Ford (F - Get Report) was on watch after reducing its earnings forecast for the full year. The automaker expects adjusted pretax profit of around $10.2 billion, down from previous forecasts of $10.8 billion. Lowered profit estimates are tied to its recall of vehicles with defective door latches. Ford has recalled a total 2.4 million affected vehicles.
Rite Aid (RAD - Get Report) spiked after Walgreens (WBA - Get Report) pledged to sell more than 500 stores to ease concerns over the companies' proposed merger. The two chains said they were "actively engaged" with the Federal Trade Commission in addressing antitrust worries. Walgreens expects its $17 billion acquisition of Rite Aid to close by the end of the year.
Petrobras (PBR - Get Report) rose more than 3% after HSBC upgraded its rating to buy from hold. The firm pointed to improved company and industry fundamentals, and recent strength in oil as reason for the upgrade.
Pier 1 Imports (PIR - Get Report) declined after reporting a wider-than-expected loss in its second quarter and announcing that CEO Alex Smith will step down from the position, effective the end of the year. The homewares retailer reported a 6.7% decline in net sales over the quarter, a steeper fall than an expected 6% drop.