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Stocks wobble; energy companies climb, but tech sector falls

Stocks wobble; energy companies climb, but tech sector falls
Most of the stocks on the New York Stock Exchange finished higher Wednesday. Above, traders work on the stock exchange floor. (Justin Lane / EPA/Shutterstock)

U.S. stock indexes wobbled between gains and losses Wednesday, then finished with a split decision. Technology companies dropped, canceling out gains by energy companies.

Oil and gasoline prices continued to rise after a big gain the day before, and U.S. crude reached its highest price in two months. Chipmakers fell, and Apple slipped after announcing new iPhones and Apple Watches.

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The market staged a brief rally around midday after a report that the United States was seeking new trade talks with China. Stocks climbed, but they retreated to their earlier levels in less than an hour.

Kristina Hooper, chief global market strategist for Invesco, said investors have learned from earlier trade updates that didn't amount to much.

“Every other time this has happened, it wasn't worth the positive market move,” she said. “Investors are a lot more skeptical this time around, having been burned a few times with false optimism about positive trade developments.”

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index ended with a gain of 1.03 points, or less than 0.1%, to 2,888.92. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 27.86 points, or 0.1%, to 25,998.92. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite fell 18.24 points, or 0.2%, to 7,954.23. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks fell 2.71 points, or 0.2%, to 1,715.70.

Most of the stocks on the New York Stock Exchange finished higher.

Oil prices built on Tuesday's gains after the Energy Information Administration said U.S. crude stockpiles fell by more than 5 million barrels last week. The prospect of tighter supplies and higher prices also helped energy company stocks.

Benchmark U.S. oil climbed 1.6% to $70.37 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the standard for international oil prices, rose 0.9% to $79.74 a barrel in London. Wholesale gasoline rose 1% to $2.03 a gallon. It jumped almost 3% the day before.

Goldman Sachs analyst Mark Delaney downgraded Micron Technology stock to “neutral” and said he expects weaker market conditions for several types of computer chips. Micron fell 4.3% to $41.74. Nvidia slipped 1.7% to $268.20.

Apple unveiled new iPhones with larger screens Wednesday and said new Apple Watches will have larger screens and new health-monitoring features. Apple tends to trade lower on the days it announces new products, and its shares fell 1.2% to $221.07. The stock is up 31% in 2018, however.

After updates to the Apple Watch were announced, shares of fitness tracker company Fitbit slumped 6.9% to $5.53 in heavy trading.

Cigarette makers jumped after the Food and Drug Administration said that it is looking at steps to combat “an epidemic” of e-cigarette use by teenagers and that companies need to address the problem or risk having their flavored products pulled off the market.

Altria Group surged 6.7% to $63.43, its largest gain in just under a decade. Philip Morris International rose 3.4% to $80.05. Overseas rivals such as British American Tobacco and Imperial Brands also jumped.

Discovery Communications jumped 7.7% to $30.70 after announcing that under a new agreement, more Discovery shows will be available over the streaming service Hulu.

The Labor Department said wholesale prices unexpectedly slipped in August, the first decline in a year and a half. That's a sign inflation pressures could be easing. The agency's producer prices index slipped 0.1% in August, although it's up 2.8% over the last year. The department said transportation and warehousing service prices fell for the month.

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The dollar weakened and interest rates slipped, which put pressure on bank stocks and also boosted commodities prices. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.96% from 2.98%.

The dollar fell to 111.22 yen from 111.59 yen. The euro rose to $1.1632 from $1.1586.

Gold rose 0.7% to $1,210.90 an ounce. Silver rose 1% to $14.29 an ounce. Copper climbed 2.1% to $2.68 a pound.

Heating oil rose 0.3% to $2.26 a gallon. Natural gas remained at $2.83 per 1,000 cubic feet.

3:10 p.m.: This article was updated with closing prices, context and analyst comment.

This article was originally published at 12:35 p.m.

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