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VOL. 41 | NO. 9 | Friday, March 03, 2017

Stock indexes end mostly lower as the price of oil plunges

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NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks fell for the third day in a row as energy companies tumbled along with the price of crude oil. Investors also sold high-dividend stocks as bond yields rose, giving investors other alternatives for seeking income.

Crude oil prices fell 5 percent, their biggest drop in more than a year, after the government reported a big buildup in fuel stockpiles.

A survey by a payroll company showed that private companies added the most jobs in three years in February, a sign of stronger economic growth. That helped send bond prices lower and yields higher. The report showed big increases in construction and manufacturing hiring.

According to industry measurements and government data, manufacturing and business investment have improved in the last few months after a steep slump. However investors have longed for evidence manufacturing and construction companies were bringing on more workers, and there wasn't much of that until Wednesday.

"It's not surprising that you would start to see the hiring improve in that sector," said Katie Nixon, chief investment officer for Northern Trust. "It's been a drag on economic growth the last couple of years."

The Standard & Poor's 500 index dipped 5.41 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,362.98. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 69.03 points, or 0.3 percent, to 20,855.73. The Nasdaq composite rose 3.62 points, or 0.1 percent, to 5,836.55 as health care and technology companies moved higher.

Private businesses added 298,000 jobs last month, according to payroll processor ADP. That came after a slightly smaller gain in January. The U.S. government will issue its own report on the broader jobs market Friday.

Bond prices dropped. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note jumped to 2.56 percent from 2.52 percent.

Federal Reserve policymakers will meet next week, and investors expect the central bank to raise interest rates for the first time since December. Nixon says long-term bond yields could reach roughly 3 percent in a few months.

Stocks that pay big dividends such as utilities and real estate investment trusts are often compared to bonds because of their hefty payments to shareholders. When bond yields rise, investors often sell those stocks so they can buy bonds instead. High-dividend companies also fall out of favor when Wall Street expects faster economic growth. Utility holding company PG&E gave up $1.10, or 1.7 percent, to $65.16 and Realty Income dropped $2.14, or 3.6 percent, to $57.70.

The Energy Information Administration said oil reserves grew by 8 million barrels last week, far more than analysts expected. Benchmark U.S. crude sagged $2.86, or 5.4 percent, to $50.28 a barrel in New York, its lowest price since late November. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell $2.81, or 5 percent, to $53.11 a barrel in London.

Energy stocks are already lagging the market in 2017, and on Wednesday the 13 biggest losers among S&P 500 companies all came from the energy industry. Marathon Oil lost $1.41, or 8.7 percent, to $14.87 and Devon Energy sank $2.84, or 6.5 percent, to $40.72.

Almost three-fourths of the stocks on the New York Stock Exchange finished lower as some sectors that might have been expected to rise on the prospect of faster economic growth missed out on the day's gains.

Banks, which have skyrocketed since the election, finished little changed despite the jump in bond yields. Industrial companies declined. Caterpillar lost $2.70, or 2.8 percent, to $93.23 as a government probe into its taxes and accounting remained in the news. Smaller, domestically focused companies also fell, as the Russell 2000 index of small-company stocks fell 8.84 points, or 0.6 percent, to 1,366.04.

Medical device and equipment makers moved slightly higher, and biotechnology companies bounced partway back after sharp losses a day earlier. Investors worried about price limits or cuts after President Donald Trump tweeted that he is working on a plan to reduce prices. The Nasdaq Biotechnology index rose 0.9 percent after a 1.5 percent loss Tuesday.

The dollar rose to 114.42 yen from 114.05 yen. The euro slipped to $1.0548 from $1.0568.

In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline shed 3 cents to $1.65 a gallon. Heating oil dropped 6 cents, or 3.5 percent, to $1.56 a gallon. Natural gas jumped 8 cents, or 2.7 percent, to $2.90 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold fell $6.70 to $1,209.40 an ounce. Silver lost 24 cents, or 1.4 percent, to $17.30 an ounce. Copper gave up 2 cents to $2.60 a pound.

The French CAC 40 rose 0.1 percent and the DAX in German was little changed. The FTSE 100 in Britain lost 0.1 percent. Tokyo's Nikkei 225 index shed 0.5 percent and in Hong Kong the Hang Seng advanced 0.4 percent. The Kospi in South Korea was unchanged.

___

AP Markets Writer Marley Jay can be reached at http://twitter.com/MarleyJayAP His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/marley-jay

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