U.S. stocks traded slightly lower Thursday morning as investors tuned in for a second day of congressional testimony from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and sifted through a clutch of economic data, including a decline in weekly first-time applications for jobless benefits.

How are stock benchmarks trading?

The Dow Jones Industrial Average

fell 128.67 points, or 0.4%, to 34,804.56.

The S&P 500

was down 16.75 points, or 0.4%, at 4,357.55.

The Nasdaq Composite

declined 79.37 points, or 0.5%, to 14,565.59.

On Wednesday, the Dow rose 44.44 points, or 0.1%, ending at 34,933.23; the S&P 500 index gained 5.09 points, or 0.1%, closing at 4,374.30; while the Nasdaq Composite Index shed 32.70 points, or 0.2%, finishing at 14,644.95.

What’s driving the market?

Hand-wringing about global economic growth was revived early Thursday, with benchmark bond yields skidding lower, as investors weighed a second day of testimony before lawmakers by Powell, who was appearing before the Senate Banking Committee.

In the first day of testimony, the central bank chief told lawmakers on Wednesday that pandemic-related supply-chain bottlenecks created “just the perfect storm of high demand and low supply,” which “should partially reverse as the effects of the bottlenecks unwind.”

Powell said Wednesday that, with expectations that pricing pressures will eventually fade, the central bank was in no hurry to pare purchases of Treasurys and mortgage-related assets, which are currently running at $120 billion monthly, and described the economy as “still a ways off” from meeting the Fed’s self-described goals of “substantial further progress.”

How long pricing pressures will persist is perhaps the big question dogging financial markets presently.

“These nagging concerns about inflation, transitory or otherwise have continued to dominate sentiment, while worries over the pace and persistence of rising prices, appear to be tempering optimism over the wider global recovery story,” wrote Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets UK, in a Thursday research note.

In U.S. economic data released Thursday, first-time claims for U.S. unemployment benefits fell to 360,000 last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday, down from 386,000 the previous week.

The Philadelphia Fed’s factory index fell to 21.9 in June from 30.7 in prior month. Separately, the New York Fed’s Empire State Index jumped 25.6 points to a record-high reading of 43 in July. Economists had expected a reading of 17.3, according to a survey by The Wall Street Journal. Any reading above zero for either index indicates improving conditions.

U.S. industrial production rose 0.4% in June, the Federal Reserve reported Thursday, but a shortage of semiconductors contributed to a 6.6% drop in production of motor vehicles and parts. Excluding autos, industrial output rose 0.8% in the month.

Meanwhile, the spread of the delta variant of coronavirus was also stoking anxieties on Wall Street. Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health told CNN Wednesday that the “delta variant is spreading, people are dying, we can’t actually just wait for things to get more rational.”

“We’re losing time here,” the public health professional said as the U.S. vaccine program has slowed with 48.2% of the population fully inoculated, according to a tracker from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Which companies are in focus?

GameStop Corp. shares GME slid 0.5% after Netflix Inc. NFLX announced its first major videogame hire, potentially signaling a move beyond its streaming-video roots.

Shares of Morgan Stanley

fell 0.6% after the brokerage and money management company reported profit and revenue that beat expectations, but trading revenue that fell short of forecasts.

Shares of UnitedHealth Group Inc. UNH rose, after the healthcare provider reported second-quarter profit and revenue that were well above expectations and raised its full-year outlook, even as the company continued to expect COVID-19 to take a bite out of results. 

Ross Stores IncROST said late Wednesday that Chief Financial Officer Travis Marquette has resigned effective immediately to accept a position with another company which the retailer didn’t disclose. Shares fell 1.2%.

How are other markets trading?

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note

fell 3 basis points to 1.32%. Yields and bond prices move in opposite directions.

The ICE U.S. Dollar Index
a measure of the currency against a basket of six major rivals, was up 0.1%.

Oil futures slumped, with the U.S. benchmark

down 1%, while gold futures

edged up 0.1%.

In European equities, the Stoxx Europe 600

fell 0.8% and London’s FTSE 100

dropped 0.7%.

In Asia, the Shanghai Composite

rose 1%, the Hang Seng Index

advanced 0.8% and Japan’s Nikkei 225

fell 1.2%.

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