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Financial stocks were ending near their session lows Thursday, with the NYSE Financial Sector Index sinking slightly more than 2.3% while financial companies in the S&P 500 Index were falling almost 3,.5%. The Philadelphia Housing Sector Index was down nearly 1.1%.
In economic news:
In another sign of a strong hiring market, the U.S. Labor Department Thursday kicked a heavy day for economic data by reporting a 3,000 increase in first-time applications for unemployment benefits during the week ended March 17 to 229,000, staying near a 45-year low for initial unemployment gains. Expert opinion had been looking for 1,000-person drop last week to 225,000 claims. Continuing claims fell by 57,000 during the week ended March 10 to a new multi-decade low of 1.828 million applicants.
The purchasing managers index for the American manufacturing sector slipped 0.2 points during March compared with prior month to a 55.7 preliminary reading, topping the Econoday consensus expecting a 55.4 flash score this month and staying at a three-year high. The services sector showed more volatility, however, falling to a 54.1 March reading from February's 55.9 score. Analysts had been expecting only a 0.2-point decline to 55.7 this month.
The index of leading indicators remained on solid ground in February, growing another 0.6% in February following January's revised 0.8% increase and easily outpacing the consensus view looking for just a 0.3% rise. The report found leading indicators were performing at their best levels in seven years, pointing to "robust" economic growth through 2018. The factory work-week, unemployment claims and ISM new orders led the index higher, with interest rates and consumer expectations also contributing to the positive momentum.
Also, many banks - including Deutsche Bank AG ( DB ), US Bancorp ( USB ), Webster Financial Corp ( WBS ), SunTrust Banks ( STI ), Citizens Financial Group ( CFG ), TCF Financial Corp (TCF), Wells Fargo (WFC) and Citigroup (C) - all said Thursday they were raising their prime lending rates by 25 basis points to 4.75% beginning Friday, March 22, in response the Federal Open Market Committee Wednesday increased the Federal Funds rate by the same amount to a range between 1.50% to 1.75%.
Among financial stocks moving on news:
- Citigroup (C) dropped almost 3% on Thursday, sliding to a session low of $71.21 a share, with the money-center bank company seeing little upside today after saying said it was joining a growing number of companies by working to limit firearm sales, instituting a policy requiring new retail-sector clients to avoid selling guns to any customers who haven't first passed a background check or to prospective buyers under 21 years old. The policy will apply to Citi's small-business customers as well as both its co-brand and private label credit card partners and its commercial and institutional clients. It also is looking to bar all sales of so-called "bump stocks," which can make a semi-automatic rifle work by a machine gun, along with high-capacity magazines.
In other sector news:
- Alexandria Real Estate Equities (ARE) was little changed Thurday afternoon, erasing most of a nearly 0.5% decline earlier in the session, that followed the real estate investment trust this morning saying it has appointed Stephen Richardson and Peter Moglia as its co-chief executive officers, effective April 23. Moglia also will continue in his current role as chief investment officer at the firm while Richardson is moving up after serving as the company's chief operating officer since 2011.
- S&T Bancorp (STBA) was narrowly underwater Thursday afternoon, with shares of the parent company for S&T Bank falling less than 1% to a session low of $41.36 apiece, after it authorized a new stock buyback program to repurchase and retire up to $50 million of its outstanding shares. The current authorization runs through Aug. 31, 2019, with S&T expecting to fund its repurchases using available cash on hand and other internally generated funds.
- Atlantic Coast Financial (ACFC) was extending its slow decline Thursday, recently falling more than 1% to a session low of $10.65 a share, with the bank holding company's stock receiving little apparent market support despite saying its shareholders voted to approve the proposed merger with Ameris Bancorp (ABCB). The deal is scheduled to close during Q2, subject to additional regulatory approval and other customary closing conditions.