US stocks mostly unchanged in early trading; oil gives up some of its gain from the day before

Energy Associated Press

U.S. stocks were mostly unchanged Friday after four straight days of losses. The price of oil slipped following a big gain the day before, when traders worried that the escalating conflict in the Middle East would affect the flow of crude from the region.

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KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average rose three points, or 0.02 percent, to 17,681 as of 9:50 a.m. Eastern. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose a point, or 0.1 percent, to 2,058 and the Nasdaq composite was up 17 points, or 0.3 percent, to 4880.

OIL PRICES: Benchmark U.S. crude fell $1.65 to $49.78 a barrel in New York. That comes after a 4.5 percent gain on Thursday. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, was down $1.40 at $57.77 a barrel in London.

MIDDLE EAST: The turmoil in Yemen is also a key focus for investors, particularly in oil markets. The conflict has erupted into a regional conflict, with Saudi Arabia and its allies bombing Shiite rebels allied with Iran, while Egyptian officials said a ground assault will follow the airstrikes. Iran denounced the Saudi-led air campaign, calling it "a dangerous step."

The military action has turned impoverished and chaotic Yemen into a new front in the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

ANALYST'S TAKE: "The fact that we're seeing a small decline in prices today does not mean that traders are no longer concerned about the conflict, it's simply a correction because yesterday's rally was a little overdone," said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at OANDA.

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US GDP IN FOCUS: U.S. economic growth slowed in the fourth quarter and likely cooled even further in the first quarter as severe winter weather took its toll.

The Commerce Department said gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 2.2 percent in the October-December period, unchanged from its previous estimate a month ago. The economy surged at a 5 percent rate in the third quarter.

CURRENCIES: The euro fell 0.8 percent to $1.0870. The dollar rose 0.1 percent against the Japanese currency to 119.11 yen.

BONDS: U.S. Government bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 1.97 percent from 1.99 percent late Thursday.