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An early gain for U.S. stocks fizzles, leaving indexes lower

FedEx to take over TNT Express, one of Europe's largest delivery companies, for $4.8 billion

U.S. stocks fell Tuesday as an early advance fizzled in the last hour of trading.

Energy stocks rose with the price of oil while consumer discretionary stocks were among the biggest decliners. Utility stocks also dragged down the major indices.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 5.43 points, or 0.03 percent, to 17,875.42. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 4.29 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,076.33. The Nasdaq composite lost 7.08 points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,910.23.

Stocks were modestly higher most of the day but sank right before the close. The Dow Jones utility index, an index representing 15 of the nation's largest utility companies, fell 1 percent.

Many traders spent the day focusing on the upcoming earnings season. Earnings season officially starts Wednesday with Alcoa, which reports its results after the closing bell.

Bad news from Alcoa, and other companies, could make for turbulent trading.

Analysts have put the bar for first-quarter profits very low, a result of the stronger dollar and low oil prices squeezing revenues. They expect overall earnings to shrink 3 percent compared with the same quarter of last year, according to S&P Capital IQ. If those forecasts come true, it would be the first earnings drop since 2009.

“Equities are trading near all-time highs while earnings expectations get set lower,” Terry Sandven, senior equity strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. “That's just not sustainable.”

Investors also had two deals to work through Tuesday.

FedEx said it reached an agreement to take over TNT Express, one of Europe's largest delivery companies, for 4.4 billion euros, or $4.8 billion. If shareholders approve it, the companies expect to wrap up the deal in the first half of 2016. FedEx's stock surged $4.49, or 3 percent, to $171.16.

Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway plans to take a nearly 10 percent stake in Axalta Coating Systems, which makes specialized coatings for cars and trucks. Berkshire is buying 20 million shares for $28 from The Carlyle Group, a private equity firm. Axalta, which went public in November, jumped $2.78, or 10 percent, to $31.11.

Oil prices rose on Tuesday. U.S. crude increased $1.84, or 3.5 percent, to close at $53.98 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, rose 98 cents, or 1.7 percent, to close at $58.10 a barrel in London.

U.S. government bond prices rose slightly. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 1.88 percent from 1.90 percent on Monday.

In the metals markets, gold fell $8 to settle at $1,210.60 an ounce, while silver slipped 27 cents to $16.84 an ounce. Copper rose 5 cents to $2.76 a pound.

In other energy futures trading on the NYMEX:

— Wholesale gasoline rose 1.8 cents to close at $1.861 a gallon.

— Heating oil rose 2 cents to close at $1.784 a gallon.

— Natural gas rose 3 cents to close at $2.680 per 1,000 cubic feet.

 

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