By Herbert Lash and Marc Jones
NEW YORK/LONDON (Reuters) - A measure of global equity markets slid from near record highs, the dollar edged up and bond yields fell on Thursday as investors mulled the Federal Reserve's benign inflation outlook and upbeat assessment of the U.S. economy.
The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell to a 16-month low last week as the U.S. labor market steadily gains traction while other data showed import prices rose solidly in June but have probably peaked.
Wall Street traded lower even as the four largest U.S. consumer banks posted blockbuster second-quarter results earlier this week that were above analysts' estimates.
Investors are looking for visibility into future earnings as stocks have already surged in anticipation of stellar growth.
"We had the rally going into the earnings season. Now that we're actually here, we're seeing some softness. I wouldn't be surprised if we don't see a lot of strength during this reporting season," said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment strategist at Inverness Counsel in New York.
Analysts expect strong earnings, with IBES data from Refinitiv showing consensus looking for a 65.8% gain from a year ago, making corporate guidance more important than results.
'NAME OF THE GAME'
Energy and technology stocks led the decline on Wall Street, with defensive consumer staples and utilities the only two of 11 S&P 500 sectors to gain. Staples have pricing power that could help Procter & Gamble Co, Coca-Cola Co and others rise, once it is clear their margins remain intact, said Tom Hayes, founder and managing member of Great Hill Capital LLC.
"Guidance is the name of the game. A lot of good news is already baked into the market and even with strong guidance, you may get a breather here," Hayes said.
The MSCI world equity index, which tracks shares in 50 countries, closed down 0.33% to 723.66 after touching a record high on Wednesday. Europe's broad FTSEurofirst 300 index closed down 0.92% at 1,761.30, less than 20 points from an all-time peak set Monday.
Losses in Europe were broad-based, with economically sensitive stocks such as banks, automakers and travel down between 0.3% and 1.6% as investors grew wary of rising COVID-19 cases and their potential economic impact.
Official data showed that the United Kingdom reported the highest daily increase in COVID-19 cases since Jan. 15.
On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average eked out a 0.15% gain but the S&P 500 fell 0.33% and the Nasdaq Composite slid 0.70%.
Shares in emerging markets rose, bucking the global trend, with MSCI's index gaining 0.77%.
The 10-year Treasury note fell 5.9 basis points to yield 1.2972%, while the dollar index, which tracks a basket of six currencies, rose 0.19% to 92.586.
The rally in U.S. and European bond prices, which show the inverse of yields, suggested growing investor caution.
The dollar has climbed in recent weeks as investors take stock of the Fed's increasingly upbeat assessment of the U.S. economy, which for some investors has brought forward the timeframe for its next rate rise. Rates have fallen on Japanese buying and investors selling long-dated maturities for shorter-duration government debt, which has pushed prices up.
The euro fell 0.21% at $1.1810, while the yen traded slid 0.18% at $109.7900.
Oil prices fell as investors braced for increased supplies after a compromise agreement between leading OPEC producers and after a surprisingly low weekly reading on U.S. fuel demand.
Brent crude fell $1.29 to settle at $73.47 a barrel, while U.S. crude slid $1.48 to $71.65 a barrel.
Gold hit a one-month peak, spurred by Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell's dovish comments that squashed market interest rates.
U.S. gold futures gained 0.3% to $1,830.00 an ounce.
COVID-19 VARIANT FEARS
China's economic data showed average growth surpassed the first quarter, while June retail sales and industrial output beat expectations. But it also showed authorities, which only last week injected 1 trillion yuan into the financial system, will ensure that conditions stay loose.
The World Health Organization (WHO) COVID-19 dashboard reported the first weekly rise in global deaths from the virus in 10 weeks and a 5.6% jump in daily case numbers on Wednesday.
"The market is fearing the Delta variant could take a hold of different economies so you are almost seeing that we are back to the 'bond yields lower, tech doing well' scenario," said Justin Onuekwusi, portfolio manager at Legal & General Investment Management.
The likes of Amazon and Google are up 6-8% this month, while China's biggest tech firms Alibaba and Tencent have surged more than 12% since China's central bank made a supportive policy tweak for the first time in nearly a year on Friday.
The spread of COVID-19 variants of concern: https://tmsnrt.rs/3hYU08J
The Chinese yuan dipped to 6.4628 per dollar in Asia after hitting a three-week high of 6.4508 overnight.
(Additional reporting by Sujata Rao; Editing by Will Dunham, Alex Richardson, Barbara Lewis and Gareth Jones)