September 8, 2017 / 6:53 PM / 2 months ago

US STOCKS-S&P 500 steady as Hurricane Irma nears Florida

* Kroger falls as profit hit by aggressive price cuts

* Equifax down after massive data breach

* All three major indexes headed for weekly loss

* Dow up 0.2 pct, S&P down 0.1 pct, Nasdaq down 0.5 pct (Updates to late afternoon)

By Caroline Valetkevitch

NEW YORK, Sept 8 (Reuters) - The S&P 500 was near flat on Friday as investors braced for potential damage from Hurricane Irma as it moved toward Florida and assessed the financial impact of Hurricane Harvey.

Geopolitical concerns also kept investors on edge as South Korea prepared for a possible further missile test by North Korea on Saturday, days after its sixth and largest nuclear test.

The Dow was up, helped by a rise in financial stocks, with most insurers, including Chubb and Travelers, up sharply.

The major indexes, however, were on track to end the week lower, with many economists forecasting that third-quarter GDP will take a blow from the hurricanes.

“Investors are really in a wait-and-see mode given their concern about the impact of Hurricane Irma on Florida and wherever else it ends up going,” said Kate Warne, investment strategist at Edward Jones in St. Louis.

“Overall, we are seeing the market and investors sort of hunker down to see what the damage and destruction turns out to be,” she said.

Irma was set to hit Florida as early as Saturday, with FEMA warning that parts of Florida could be out of electricity for days, if not longer.

The hurricane, the strongest recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, comes on the heels of Harvey, which shut a quarter of U.S. refineries and 8 percent of U.S. oil production.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 40.85 points, or 0.19 percent, to 21,825.63, the S&P 500 lost 1.16 points, or 0.05 percent, to 2,463.94 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 31.25 points, or 0.49 percent, to 6,366.62.

Harvey may end up being the most expensive natural disaster in the United States since 1980, costing $70 billion to $108 billion, according to BofA Merrill Lynch.

The brokerage cut its estimate for third-quarter U.S. GDP growth by 0.4 percentage points to 2.5 percent.

Equifax was the biggest percentage loser on the S&P, falling 14.1 percent, after the provider of consumer credit scores said personal details of as many as 143 million U.S. consumers were hacked.

The financial sector rose 1.1 percent, recovering from a 1.6 percent decline on Thursday.

The financial sector, however, is headed for its second straight week of declines as an interest rate increase in December becomes less likely.

Traders have sharply reduced the odds for another interest rate hike this year. The chances of a December move are at 26.4 percent, compared with 42 percent a week ago, according to the CME Group’s FedWatch tool.

Kroger shares were down 7.5 percent after the biggest U.S. supermarket company issued a disappointing forecast.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.08-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.04-to-1 ratio favored advancers. (Additional reporting by Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru and Lewis Krauskopf in New York; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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