NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks pulled back on Thursday, amid increasing worries about worsening coronavirus counts across the country.
Markets around the world have taken a pause after galloping higher this month, at first on expectations that Washington will continue several pro-business policies after last week's U.S. elections. More recently, encouraging early results for a potential covid-19 vaccine have investors envisioning a global economy returning to normal.
The S&P 500 index lost 35.65 points, or 1%, to 3,537.01. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 317.46 points, or 1.1%, to 29,080.17 and the Nasdaq composite lost 76.84 points, or 0.65%, to 11,709.59.
Analysts are still largely optimistic the market can climb even higher, largely because they see a potential vaccine as a game changer. Despite the declines, the S&P 500 and Dow are both close to their record highs. But several risks remain that could trip up markets in the near term. Rising above them all is the continuing pandemic, with daily counts climbing in nearly every state.
The trends are worsening enough in New York, for example, that the state is ordering restaurants, bars and gyms to close at 10 p.m. each night, beginning today. New York had been a hotbed for the virus early in the year but had seemed to have gotten it largely under control. In Europe, several governments have brought back even tougher restrictions that will likely restrain the economy.
"From a health standpoint and economic standpoint, the very near term looks relatively bleak," said Mike Dowdall, investment strategist with BMO Global Asset Management.
But while he says more volatility may hit the market in the near term as governments bring back restrictions, he's still optimistic about its prospects into next year.
"If you think back to the dark days of March, you didn't know how far we were from normalization," he said. "People were saying it may be years. But the backdrop from a markets standpoint is just a lot different than it was in March."
Beyond the vaccines in development, which could get everyday life closer to normal, he cited the Federal Reserve, which has already shown it can roll out bond-buying programs swiftly to support markets.
Thursday's slip for the S&P 500 pares its gain for November down to 8.2%. If it holds there, it would still be the best month for the benchmark index since April, when the market was first exploding out of the crater created by the market's sell-off amid pandemic panic.
Declines in stocks of big technology companies, which have held out well throughout much of the pandemic, helped pull the market lower. Microsoft and Facebook each slipped 0.5%.
Several of the stocks that would benefit most from an economy returning to normal, meanwhile, were lagging.
While the market is showing signs of worry over the uptick in virus cases, the longer view for an economic recovery is still solid, said Brent Schutte, chief investment strategist of Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management. That scenario is bolstered by the advances in vaccine development.
"At some point the vaccine means the virus ends and we get back to something normal," he said. "I feel fairly confident going into next year."
A report on Thursday showed that the number of layoffs across the country remains high, though it again eased by a bit. Last week, 709,000 workers filed for unemployment benefits, down from 757,000 a week earlier. It was also a better reading than economists were expecting.
But economists caution that the numbers could climb again if coronavirus counts keep rising across the country and trigger more business closures.
A separate report showed that inflation at the consumer level was weaker last month than economists expected.
Information for this article was contributed by Elaine Kurtenbach and Ken Sweet of The Associated Press.