US stocks slip as oil prices fall and interest rate worries remain dominant

Markets Associated Press

Stocks were moving mostly lower in early trading Friday, caused by a drop in oil prices and worries about higher interest rates. Energy companies and utilities had the biggest declines.

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KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average lost 79 points, or 0.5 percent, to 17,815 as of 9:55 a.m. Eastern. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell three points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,062. The Nasdaq composite edged up five points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,896.

OIL MOVE: The price of oil declined after the Energy Information Administration reported that U.S. crude supplies continue to rise last week. The International Energy Agency, meanwhile, said in its monthly report that the "rebalancing triggered by the price collapse has yet to run its course." U.S. crude fell $1.01 to $46.03 a barrel while Brent fell 66 cents to $56.62 a barrel in London.

Energy stocks fell more than the rest of the market. Transocean, the offshore oil rig company, fell 30 cents, or 2 percent, to $14 and Halliburton fell 60 cents, or 1.5 percent, to $40.41.

INTEREST RATES: Stocks that pay higher dividends, such as utilities, were also big decliners Friday. The Dow Jones utility average fell 0.8 percent. That index is down 7 percent so far this year.

A growing number of investors believe the Federal Reserve will raise its benchmark interest rate as early as June. Higher rates are typically bad for high-dividend stocks because it diminishes their appeal to investors seeking income. The Fed meets next week to discuss monetary policy.

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END OF A YO-YO WEEK: The week started with growing anxiety over when the Fed will start raising rates following a run of upbeat U.S. economic data, including February's nonfarm payrolls report. However, soft retail figures for January, released Thursday, have tempered those expectations. A report on producer prices, a measure of inflation, released Friday showed inflation remains under control. The three major U.S. stock market indexes are down slightly for the week.

ANALYST'S TAKE: "Coming as it did on the back of two previously disappointing months, the weak (retail sales) number has once again seeded doubts about how the Federal Reserve might react next week," said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets.

CURRENCIES AND BONDS: The U.S. dollar rose against other major currencies. The euro declined 1 percent to $1.0518. The dollar rose 0.2 percent against the Japanese currency to 121.53 yen. Bond prices didn't move much. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note was unchanged from late Wednesday at 2.12 percent.