November 18, 2016 / 5:52 PM / in a year

US STOCKS-Wall Street slips; indexes still near record highs

* Gap, Abercrombie fall after disappointing forecast

* All three major indexes on track to post weekly gains

* S&P health index leads decliners

* Indexes down: Dow 0.19 pct, S&P 0.23 pct, Nasdaq 0.24 pct (Updates to early afternoon)

By Tanya Agrawal

Nov 18 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were lower in early afternoon trading on Friday as health stocks weighed and investors cashed in after the post-election rally, but the three major indexes continued to hover near record levels.

The Nasdaq hit a record high earlier in the session, helped by a rise in Microsoft and other big tech stocks.

Losses in shares of Merck and Johnson and Johnson dragged down the S&P health sector, which led the decliners with a 1.08 percent fall.

U.S. stocks had been on a tear since Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the presidential election last week as his proposals to increase infrastructure spending and reduce taxes are seen benefiting the economy.

The rally lost steam this week as investors took to the sidelines, awaiting more clarity regarding Trump’s policies.

Still, the three major indexes are on track to close higher for the second week in a row.

“I think given the major indexes are at or near all-time highs, we’re probably due for a little bit of a digestion period,” said Terry Sandven, chief equity strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management.

“Equities are generally expected to move sideways until we get a little more of visibility into what some of the policies are going to be with the new administration.”

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said on Thursday the central bank could raise interest rates “relatively soon”, sending out a clear signal for a December move.

Traders are pricing in an 83 percent chance of a December move, according to Thomson Reuters data.

St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said he was leaning toward supporting an interest rate increase in December and that the real question now would be the Fed’s rate path in 2017.

Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank President Esther George also said that while she supports raising interest rates, the U.S. central bank must do so only gradually.

At 12:34 p.m. ET (1734 GMT) the Dow Jones industrial average was down 36.3 points, or 0.19 percent, at 18,867.52, about 67 points shy of the record it hit on Nov. 14.

The S&P 500 was down 5.11 points, or 0.23 percent, at 2,182.01. The index hit a record high of 2,193.81 on Aug. 15.

The Nasdaq Composite was down 12.70 points, or 0.24 percent, at 5,321.28.

Eight of the 11 major S&P 500 sectors were lower.

Consumer Staples fell 0.45 percent, weighed down by a 1.1 percent fall in Procter & Gamble.

Gap and Abercrombie & Fitch fell more than 10 percent after both retailers warned of a challenging holiday quarter.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,589 to 1,302. On the Nasdaq, 1,446 issues fell and 1,292 advanced.

The S&P 500 index showed 31 new 52-week highs and four new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 184 new highs and 22 new lows. (Reporting by Tanya Agrawal and Anya George Tharakan; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Anil D’Silva)

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