U.S. Stocks Finish Little Change After Weak Employment Report 

NEW YORK (AP) -

U.S. stocks ended pretty much where they started Thursday after spending the day cycling up and down. Investors bought safe picks like phone companies and food makers after a surprisingly weak report on the job market.

Stocks started the day higher. Materials companies climbed after Monsanto, an agricultural giant, soared on reports it might be acquired. The market turned lower in late morning trading as investors worried about the Labor Department’s report, which showed an unexpected jump in the number of people seeking unemployment benefits. Oil wavered between gains and losses, but finished higher for the sixth time in seven days.

The& Dow& Jones industrial average rose 9.38 points, less than 0.1 percent, to 17,720.50. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index dipped 0.35 points to 2,064.11. The Nasdaq composite index fell 23.35 points, or 0.5 percent, to 4,737.33.

The Labor Department said applications for unemployment benefits rose to the highest level since February 2015. Applications rose by 20,000 to 294,000. Despite the increase, they have remained below 300,000 for more than a year.

The biggest gains went to phone companies, chemicals makers and consumer stocks. AT&T increased 37 cents to $39.55. Among consumer companies, Kraft Heinz rose $1.14, or 1.3 percent, to $86.34 and Coca-Cola added 37 cents to $45.83.

Monsanto led materials companies higher after Bloomberg News reported that German chemical and pharmaceutical company Bayer might make an offer for it. Monsanto jumped $7.58, or 8.4 percent, to $97.92.

Benchmark U.S. oil, which is at its highest price since early November, gained 47 cents, or 1 percent, to $46.70 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the benchmark for international oil prices, rose 48 cents, or 1 percent, to $48.08 a barrel in London. The International Energy Agency said it thinks the global oil surplus will shrink by the year’s end, bringing supply and demand much closer to balance.

Department store Kohl’s said its sales dropped and its income was weighed down by high costs. The company’s results suffered as it discounted some items to clear out inventory. The stock fell $3.55, or 9.2 percent, to $35.15. Retailers have been struggling for months. Macy’s slashed its profit forecast Wednesday following its quarterly report, and Gap posted worse-than-expected April sales on Monday.

Apple fell to its lowest price in almost two years. Its stock slid $2.17, or 2.3 percent, to $90.34.

In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline was little changed at $1.58 a gallon. Heating oil was little changed at $1.39 a gallon. Natural gas lost 2 cents to $2.16 per 1,000 cubic feet.

The price of gold dipped $4.30 to $1,271.20 an ounce. Silver lost 22 cents, or 1.2 percent, to $17.10 an ounce. Copper fell 3 cents, or 1.4 percent, to $2.07 a pound.

Germany’s DAX fell 1.1 percent and the FTSE 100 in Britain was down 0.4 percent. France’s CAC 40 lost 0.2 percent. Japan’s Nikkei 225 stock index rose 0.4 percent and the Hang Seng index of Hong Kong dropped 0.7 percent. South Korea’s Kospi lost 0.1 percent.

Bond prices fell and the yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note rose to 1.75 percent from 1.73 percent. The dollar edged up to 109.14 yen from 108.49 yen. The euro slipped to $1.1373 from $1.1425.