Healthcare firms pull the market down as Dow finishes slightly lower
Stocks finished slightly lower on Wednesday as healthcare companies continued to struggle, although energy companies rose as the price of natural gas surged on the first day of winter.
After a mixed opening, stocks finished at their lowest prices of the day, with healthcare firms continuing to lag the market, as they have done throughout 2016.
Industrial companies, which have surged since the presidential election, also eased lower, although a jump of almost nine per cent in the price of natural gas helped gas and pipeline companies move higher.
"It looks like we're going to see another cold blast," said Jim Ritterbusch, an analyst who advises oil traders.
He said weather forecasts suggest temperatures will drop later next week, which means people will use more natural gas to heat their homes.
The Dow dipped 32.66 points, or 0.2%, to 19,941.96.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 5.58 points, or 0.2%, to 2,265.18. The Nasdaq composite fell 12.51 points, or 0.2%, to 5,471.43.
Cancer drug maker Celgene dipped 2.67 US dollars (£2.16), or 2.3%, to 116.40 dollars (£94.21) and Merck skidded 1.07 dollars (86p), or 1.8%, to 59.43 dollars (£48.10).
Health insurance company Anthem lost 2.68 dollars (£2.16), or 1.8%, to 144.98 dollars (£117.34) as healthcare stocks fell.
Natural gas companies made big gains thanks to a surge in natural gas futures. The price of that fuel climbed 28 cents (22p), or 8.6%, to 3.54 dollars (£2.86) per 1,000 cubic feet on the first day of winter.
Southwestern Energy jumped 60 cents (48p), or 5.8%, to 10.98 dollars (£8.88) and Cabot Oil & Gas gained 62 cents (50p), or 2.8%, to 22.44 dollars (£18.16).
The price of natural gas has fluctuated sharply in the last few months.
"Whenever you get extreme volatility in the weather patterns, that translates to price volatility in futures," said Mr Ritterbusch, the energy analyst.
Benchmark US crude fell 81 cents (65p), or 1.5%, to 52.49 dollars (£42.47) a barrel in New York.
Brent crude, the international standard, lost 89 cents (72p), or 1.6%, to 54.46 dollars (£44.06) a barrel in London.