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Stocks end little changed as European ministers meet on Greek debt

Strong earnings reports help send stocks higher

U.S. stocks closed effectively flat in quiet trading Wednesday as investors waited to see what the outcome would be of an emergency meeting between Greece and the rest of the eurozone to discuss the country's finances.

Energy stocks were among the biggest decliners as the price of oil fell.

The Dow Jones industrial average edged down 6.62 points, or 0.04 percent, to 17,862.14. The Standard & Poor's 500 index closed flat, down 0.06 of a point to 2,068.53 and the Nasdaq composite rose 13.54 points, or 0.3 percent, to 4,801.18.

Once again, investors turned their eyes to Europe. Finance ministers from nations that use the euro held an emergency meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, the group's first opportunity to hear directly from Greece's new government.

Greece wants to renegotiate the terms of its international bailout, which has imposed years of punishing austerity on the country. The current agreement expires in late February. Speculation that Greece could be granted extra time to hold new negotiations lifted markets Tuesday.

“At the moment, it seems European leaders and Greece are willing to meet each other in the middle and this has comforted investors' concerns after the aggressive tone by Greek Prime Minister Tsipras over the weekend,” Stan Shamu, market strategist at IG, said in a commentary.

One source of weakness in U.S. markets was energy stocks.

The price of oil fell back below $50 a barrel after the Energy Department reported that U.S. crude inventories rose by 4.9 million barrels last week to their highest level for this time of year “in at least the last 80 years.”

Benchmark U.S. crude fell $1.18 to close at $48.84 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell $1.77 to close at $54.66 in London.

Transocean, one of the world's largest drilling rig companies, fell 4 percent while Pioneer Natural Resources, another major oil exploration company, fell 4 percent as well. Both were the biggest decliners in the S&P 500.

In other energy commodities, wholesale gasoline fell 0.9 cent to close at $1.543 a gallon. Heating oil fell 1.9 cents to close at $1.814 a gallon. Natural gas rose 12 cents to close at $2.797 per 1,000 cubic feet.

U.S. government bond prices were little changed. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note was flat at 2 percent.

Gold fell $12.60 to $1,219.60 an ounce, silver fell 11 cents to $16.76 an ounce and copper lost a penny to $2.54 a pound.

 

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