While you were sleeping: UPDATED US healthcare stocks fall as vote is delayed

Healthcare stocks performed the worst as the major benchmarkets dipped at the close.

Wall Street dipped at the close after being in positive territory for most of the session.

This followed a delay in a vote in the House of Representatives on a Republican healthcare bill until Friday amid last-minute negotiations aimed at securing sufficient support.

Investors view the bill as a litmus test of US President Donald Trump’s credibility to push his agenda.

“This process should be telling us that it’s going to be tougher for President Trump to get passed what he wants, and thus, policy is going to take longer to get implemented than what the markets are pricing in right now,” Matt Maley, equity strategist at Miller Tabak & Co in New York, told Bloomberg.

“Any bounce from a positive vote or them trying to shift toward a tax cut will be an opportunity to take some profits and hedge some positions because I don’t think it’ll last long,” Maley noted.

At the close of trading in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average eased back 4.72 points, or 0.02%, to 20,656. The Nasdaq Composite Index slipped 0.07% to 5817.69 and the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index lost 0.1% to 2345.96.

"There's been a lot of optimism regarding the Trump administration so this could very well be the first setback," Erik Davidson, chief investment officer at Wells Fargo Private Bank in San Francisco, told Reuters.

"What the market wants is to get through the healthcare question so that we can move on to tax reform."

Energy stocks keep falling
Energy stocks in the S&P 500 lost 0.4%, notching their sixth consecutive session of declines. US crude oil for May delivery fell 0.7% to $US47.70 a barrel, extending a recent selloff.

Healthcare stocks in the S&P 500 fell 0.4%, among the worst performers in the broad index.

UnitedHealth Group fell 1% to push down the Dow.

The latest US data underpinned an optimistic outlook for the economy. A Commerce Department report showed new home sales climbed a higher-than-anticipated 6.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 592,000 units in February.

A Labour Department report showed initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 258,000 for the week ended March 18.

"Rising mortgage rates don't appear to have been much of an impediment to increasing housing demand in February as solid job gains, faster wage growth, and stronger household formations offset the drop in affordability," David Berson, chief economist at Nationwide in Columbus, Ohio, told Reuters.

In Europe, the Stoxx 600 Index finished the day with a 0.4% drop from the previous close. The UK’s FTSE 100 Index rose 0.2%, France’s CAC 40 Index climbed 0.8% and Germany’s DAX Index rallied 1.1%.

Brazilian meat bans
Amid a food safety scandal that has prompted bans on Brazilian meat exports, JBS and BRF are pressing ahead with plans to list overseas units while seeking to shore up investor confidence, Reuters reported, citing four people involved in the deals. with a

Their campaign contends the country’s police probe into alleged bribery of health officials to overlook food safety breaches misstates the facts,

JBS, the world’s biggest meatpacker, has no intention to delay the $US1 billion initial public offering of JBS Foods International in New York, which it hopes to finalise in May or June.

BRF, the largest poultry producer, continues to analyse selling a $US1.5 billion stake in One Foods Holdings, its halal meats unit, through a London IPO or a private placement.

Neither firm has seen a pushback from potential investors, said the people, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, because of the sensitivity of the matter, according to Reuters. JBS and BRF, both based in São Paulo, declined to comment.