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Stocks mixed as banks stumble; health care climbs

NEW YORK (AP) - U.S. stock indexes finished nearly back where they started Thursday as steep losses for banks and insurance companies were balanced out by gains in health care and technology companies.

Banks skidded as bond yields reached their lowest levels of the year, which sent interest rates down. Insurance companies plunged as investors weighed the prospects of big losses caused by Hurricane Irma, which is hitting the north Caribbean and is projected to reach Florida this weekend. Payment processing companies rose after Mastercard increased its revenue forecasts, while losses for Comcast and Disney hurt media companies.

The economy "is going to suffer a few dents from the storms," said John DeClue, chief investment officer for U.S. Bank Private Wealth Management. But he said the economy "is in remarkably good shape," and that won't change even if damage from hurricanes Harvey and Irma slows economic growth for a few months. 

If the storms have a noticeable effect on the economy, he added, that will help make sure the Federal Reserve moves slowly in raising interest rates. That's something investors want to see.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index edged down 0.44 points to 2,465.10. The Dow Jones industrial average dipped 22.86 points, or 0.1 percent, to 21,784.78. The Nasdaq composite rose 4.55 points, or 0.1 percent, to 6,397.87. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks lost 3.52 points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,398.67. Most of the stocks on the New York Stock Exchange rose.

The dollar fell to a two-and-a-half-year low after the European Central Bank raised its economic growth forecast for the region this year. That made the euro stronger and the dollar weaker. 

"The European economy is arguably doing as well as ours, or better," said DeClue. 

Insurers slumped as Hurricane Irma cut a path of devastation across the northern Caribbean, leaving at least seven dead and thousands homeless, as well as millions without power. Reinsurance companies fell sharply because many of their policies are for catastrophic losses such as those caused by a hurricane.

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