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US stock indexes drift mostly lower as oil prices sink

US stock indexes drift mostly lower as oil prices sink

US stock indexes drift mostly lower, led by declines in energy companies as oil prices slide.

A deepening slide in crude oil prices weighed on energy stocks, tipping U.S. financial markets mostly lower in afternoon trading Thursday. Chevron and Exxon Mobil were among the biggest decliners in the Dow Jones industrial average, which eased back from its latest all-time high. Investors also were weighing mixed corporate earnings and U.S. economic data.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average fell 41 points, or 0.

2 percent, to 18,178 as of 3:12 p.m. Eastern. The Standard & Poor's 500 index was down seven points, or 0.3 percent, to 2,106. The Nasdaq composite gained eight points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,976.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude oil fell $2.82 to close at $48.17 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It rose $1.71 on Wednesday to $50.99 after the U.S. Energy Department reported diesel and gasoline inventories fell more than expected, indicating a pickup in demand.

OIL FALLOUT: Several oil drilling companies fell sharply. Newfield Exploration fell $2.54, or 7.1 percent, to $33.46. Ensco slid $1.91, or 7.2 percent, to $24.67. Noble shed $1.14, or 6.4 percent, to $16.69. Chevron lost $1.42, or 1.3 percent, to $107.15, while Exxon Mobil shed $1.10, or 1.2 percent, to $88.50.

SECTOR WATCH: Six of the 10 sectors in the S&P 500 moved lower, with energy stocks declining 2 percent, the biggest drop in the index. The sector is now down 1.4 percent this year. Technology stocks led the gainers. They are up 4 percent this year.

NO RELIEF: Sears Holdings fell 5.9 percent after the company reported its fourth straight year of falling profit and revenue. The stock slid $2.25 to $35.65.

ROUGH QUARTERS: Shares in vehicle components company LKQ, theme park operator SeaWorld Entertainment and stun gun maker Taser International slumped after the companies' latest quarterly results fell short of Wall Street's expectations. LKQ fell $3.30, or 11.8 percent, to $24.56. SeaWorld slid $1.30, or 6.4 percent, to $19.05. Taser fell $4, or 14.8 percent, to $23.05.

IN THE CLOUD: Salesforce.com gained 14.4 percent after the cloud software company reported a boost in quarterly revenue. The stock climbed $8.71 to $69.12.

HEALTHY RESULTS: Cyberonics surged 14.3 percent on news the medical technology company's fiscal third-quarter earnings exceeded financial analysts' forecasts. The stock added $8.66 to $69.03.

THE ECONOMY: The Commerce Department reported that orders for long-lasting manufactured goods rose 2.8 percent in January, the biggest increase since July. Meanwhile, the Labor Department said prices paid by consumers, excluding food and energy, rose 0.2 percent last month. Over the past year, those "core" prices have risen just 1.6 percent, below the 2 percent the Federal Reserve considers optimal for a healthy economy.

THE QUOTE: Investors were mostly focused on the consumer prices report, a measure of inflation. That's because rising inflation makes it more likely that the Fed will move sooner to raise its key interest rate.

"It's definitely a mixed report," said Randy Frederick, a managing director of trading and derivatives with the Schwab Center for Financial Research. "The market is in this zone where it doesn't know whether to cheer bad news because that means rates will stay low or good news because it means the economy is getting better."

UNEMPLOYMENT CLAIMS: Weekly applications for unemployment benefits rose last week to a seasonally adjusted 313,000, the most in six weeks. That total is still consistent with steady hiring. Applications are a proxy for layoffs.

EUROPEAN ACTION: Germany's DAX rose 1 percent, while France's CAC 40 gained 0.6 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.2 percent. A survey of consumer sentiment in the 19-country eurozone showed consumer optimism in Germany climbed to its highest since 2001.

BONDS: U.S. government bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.01 percent from 1.97 percent late Wednesday.

METALS: Precious and industrial metals futures ended higher. Gold rose $8.60 to $1,210.10 an ounce, silver rose 15 cents to $16.58 an ounce and copper rose five cents to $2.71 a pound.

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