US stock indexes drift as investors weigh economic data; oil prices resume slide

Energy Associated Press

U.S. financial markets drifted in morning trading Thursday, with energy stocks among the biggest decliners as crude oil prices fell. Investors were weighing new economic data on unemployment benefit claims, consumer prices and orders for long-lasting manufactured goods.

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KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average fell two points, or 0.02 percent, to 18,227 as of 11:20 a.m. Eastern. The Standard & Poor's 500 index was down less than one point at 2,113. The Nasdaq composite gained 17 points, or 0.3 percent, to 4,984.

ECONOMIC DATA: The Commerce Department reported that orders for long-lasting manufactured goods rose 2.8 percent in January, the biggest increase since July. Meanwhile, the Labor Department said that that prices paid by consumers, excluding food and energy, rose 0.2 percent. Over the past year, core prices have risen just 1.6 percent, below the 2 percent the Federal Reserve considers optimal for a healthy economy.

THE QUOTE: Investors were mostly focused on the consumer prices report, a measure of inflation. That's because rising inflation makes it more likely that the Fed will move sooner to raise its key interest rate.

"It's definitely a mixed report," said Randy Frederick, a managing director of trading and derivatives with the Schwab Center for Financial Research. "The market is in this zone where it doesn't know whether to cheer bad news because that means rates will stay low or good news because it means the economy is getting better."

UNEMPLOYMENT CLAIMS: Weekly applications for unemployment benefits rose last week to a seasonally adjusted 313,000, the most in six weeks. That total is still consistent with steady hiring. Applications are a proxy for layoffs.

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SECTOR WATCH: Six of the 10 sectors in the S&P 500 moved lower, with energy stocks dropping the most. Telecommunications services led the gainers.

OIL FALLOUT: Several oil drilling companies were down sharply. Newfield Exploration fell $2.75, or 7.7 percent, to $33.23. Ensco slid $1.75, or 6.6 percent, to $24.83. Noble shed 99 cents, or 5.6 percent, to $16.83.

EUROPEAN ACTION: Germany's DAX rose 0.9 percent, while France's CAC 40 gained 0.5 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 was flat. A survey of consumer sentiment in the 19-country eurozone showed consumer optimism in Germany climbed to its highest since 2001.

ASIAN MARKETS: Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 1.1 percent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.5 percent. China's Shanghai Composite Index jumped 2.2 percent. South Korea's Kospi inched up 0.1 percent. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.6 percent. Stocks in Southeast Asia were mostly lower while stocks in New Zealand were higher.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude oil fell $1.62 to $49.37 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It rose $1.71 on Wednesday to $50.99 after the U.S. Energy Department reported diesel and gasoline inventories fell more than expected, indicating a pickup in demand.

BONDS: Bond prices didn't move much. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note edged up to 1.98 percent from 1.97 percent late Wednesday.

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AP Business Writer Youkyung Lee in Seoul, South Korea contributed to this story.