U.S. stocks swerved between gains and losses Thursday and wound up with a muddled finish as the price of oil plunged. Investors also sold utility and phone stocks. They have favored those companies all year, especially in the wake of Britain’s vote to leave the EU.
Stocks started higher, building on gains from the previous day. But they fell after a government report that showed oil stockpiles did not shrink as much as investors had hoped. Investors sold government bonds after buying them at a rapid clip earlier this week, and precious metals prices also slid. Energy companies were hammered as the price of oil dropped almost 5 percent.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 22.74 points, or 0.1 percent, to 17,895.88. The S&P’s 500 index slid 1.83 points, or 0.1 percent, at 2,097.90. The Nasdaq rose 17.65 points, or 0.4 percent, to 4,876.81. The Dow rose as much as 66 points in the morning and fell as much as 102 points in the afternoon.
The price of oil fell after the Energy Information Administration said crude oil inventories shrank by 2.2 million barrels last week. Analysts expected a bigger drop of 2.6 million barrels, according to S&P Global Platts. Inventories have been at historically high levels lately as the supply of oil outstrips demand.
Investors sold some of the safest groups of stocks.
Duke Energy shed $1.94, or 2.2 percent, to $85.29. Xcel Energy lost $1.01, or 2.2 percent, to $44.32. AT&T fell 80 cents, or 1.9 percent, to $42.30. The S&P 500’s utility and phone company indexes have both climbed 20 percent this year. Bond prices dipped. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note rose to 1.39 percent from 1.37 percent. The yield on the 30-year Treasury note remained around 2.14 percent. Both notes have set all-time lows over recent days.
Gold, which is trading at its highest price in more than two years, lost $5 to $1,362.10 an ounce. Silver lost 37 cents, or 1.8 percent, to $19.84 an ounce. Copper shed 3 cents to $2.12 a pound.
Benchmark U.S. crude lost $2.29, or 4.8 percent, to $45.14 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, lost $2.40, or 4.9 percent, to $46.40 a barrel in London. In the morning oil prices rose almost 2 percent.
Exxon Mobil fell $1.13, or 1.2 percent, to $92.96 and Chevron retreated $1.53, or 1.5 percent, to $103.05.
Investors are looking at reports showing healthy hiring. The government said weekly applications for unemployment benefits fell last week. The government will release its own jobs report on Friday.
In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline lost 7 cents, or 4.9 percent, to $1.36 a gallon. Heating oil fell 6 cents, or 4.1 percent, to $1.41 a gallon. Natural gas lost 1 cent to $2.78 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 1.1 percent, France’s CAC 40 added 0.8 percent and Germany’s DAX increased 0.5 percent. Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index slipped 0.7 percent. South Korea’s Kospi climbed 1.1 percent and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 1 percent.
The dollar declined to 100.76 yen from 101.40 yen. The euro fell to $1.1055 from $1.1105. The British pound declined to $1.2896 from $1.2922. It’s been trading at 30-year lows over the last few days.