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US: Stocks flat as Hurricane Irma approaches

[NEW YORK] Shares of banks, insurers and media companies were among the laggards on Thursday as US stocks finished nearly flat as another massive hurricane approached the United States.

Barely a week after Hurricane Harvey inundated Houston with a year's worth of water in a few days, the dangerous Hurricane Irma was moving across the Caribbean and was expected to slam into Florida early Saturday before turning north to hit neighboring states.

"Obviously, we are looking at a second hurricane, and a tremendous amount of damage being done," said FTN Financial's Christopher Low. "The cost to insurance and reinsurance companies is going to be very high."

Insurer Travelers lost 1.6 per cent, while reinsurance company Everest Re slumped 6.8 per cent. Cruise companies Carnival and Norwegian Cruise each lost about two per cent.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended down 0.1 per cent at 21,784.78.

The broad-based S&P 500 lost less than 0.1 per cent to 2,465.10, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index added 0.1 per cent to 6,397.87.

Financial stocks also were in retreat as Treasury bond yields pulled back, threatening lending margins that boost profits. JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America all dropped more than one per cent.

Media companies also suffered as Disney offered a tepid profit forecast, and Comcast said it was on track to lose as many as 150,000 cable subscribers in the current quarter due to rising competition and lost business in the hurricane-hit region.

Disney dropped 4.4 per cent and Comcast tumbled 6.2 per cent. Others losing ground included Twenty-First Century Fox, down 2.4 per cent, and CBS, down 2.1 per cent.

Dow member General Electric slumped 3.6 per cent following a bruising appraisal of the company's prospects by analysts at JPMorgan Chase, which predicted weak earnings due to sluggish activity in key energy businesses.