U.S. Stocks Slip as Oil Skids and Safety Stocks Fall

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday. (Reuters/Lucas Jackson)
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday. (Reuters/Lucas Jackson)

U.S. stocks are lower Thursday afternoon as investors sell utility and phone company stocks, safe-play assets they’ve favored in the wake of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union last month. Energy companies are falling with oil prices and chemical companies are rising. A payroll survey showed that employers hired more workers in June after a slowdown in the months before.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 62 points, or 0.3 percent, to 17,856 as of 1:10 p.m. Eastern time. Earlier in the day, it had risen more than 60 points. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was down 6 points, or 0.3 percent, to 2,093. The Nasdaq composite decreased 3 points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,856.

HIRING: Investors are looking at reports showing healthy hiring. A survey by payroll processor ADP said U.S. companies added 172,000 jobs in June, a sign hiring may have picked up again after it slowed down in April and May. ADP’s estimate is based on private companies, and the U.S. government will release its own hiring report on Friday. The government said weekly applications for unemployment benefits fell 16,000 to 254,000 last week, another sign employers continue to hire more workers.

SAFE PICKS: Investors are selling some of the safest groups of stocks, including phone companies and utilities. Duke Energy shed $1.76, or 2 percent, to reach $85.47. Xcel Energy fell 91 cents, or 2 percent, to $44.42. AT&T fell 71 cents, or 1.6 percent, to $42.39. The S&P 500’s utility and phone company indexes have both climbed more than 20 percent this year.

ENERGY: The price of oil rose almost 2 percent in morning trading, but tumbled after the Energy Information Administration said stockpiles remained historically high and didn’t decrease by as much as investors expected. The EIA said crude oil inventories shrank by 2.2 million barrels last week, but analysts expected a drop of 2.6 million barrels, according to S&P Global Platts.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell $1.60, or 3.4 percent, to $45.83 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, decreased $1.66, or 3.4 percent, to $47.14 a barrel in London.

Exxon Mobil fell $1.14, or 1.2 percent, to $92.95 and Chevron retreated $1.54, or 1.5 percent, to $103.04.

GOLD, BONDS: Bond prices were mixed. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note rose to 1.38 percent from 1.37 percent. Demand for the 30-year Treasury note grew, however, sending its price higher and its yield down to 2.13 percent from 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, inched lower. Silver dropped 45 cents, or 2.2 percent, to $19.75 an ounce.

WHITEWAVE SWEPT UP: Organic food maker WhiteWave Foods jumped after French yogurt giant Danone agreed to buy the company for $56.25 a share, or about $10 billion. The deal would expand Danone’s range of health foods and the U.S. market. WhiteWave gained $8.82, or 18.6 percent, to $56.25.

AVG LOCKED DOWN: Dutch anti-virus software company AVG Technologies surged after rival Avast Software agreed to buy it for $25 a share, or $1.3 billion. AVG stock advanced $5.94, or 31.6 percent, to $24.73.

MATERIALS: Chemical and other materials companies traded higher. LyondelBasell Industries rose $1.42, or 1.9 percent, to $74.53 and DuPont gained 49 cents to $62.34. Agribusiness giant Monsanto added 94 cents to reach $100.34.

PEP IN ITS STEP: PepsiCo’s quarterly profit surpassed Wall Street forecasts. The company said customers are buying more of its new products, including drink options that are marketed as healthier or “craft.” It also posted stronger sales of Frito-Lay snacks. Its stock rose $1.98, or 1.9 percent, to $107.90.

BUYING IN BULK: Costco stock gained $7.02, or 4.5 percent, to $163.03, after the investors were pleased with the warehouse club operator’s June sales.

WILD WEST: Hard drive maker Western Digital forecast stronger results for its fiscal fourth quarter after it acquired flash memory chip maker SanDisk in May. Western Digital stock rose $2.01, or 4.4 percent, to $47.47 and competitor Seagate Technology gained 32 cents, or 1.4 percent, to $23.84.

OVERSEAS: 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.

CURRENCIES: The dollar declined to 100.69 yen from 101.40 yen. The euro fell to $1.1064 from $1.1105. The British pound inched up to $1.2904 from $1.2922. It’s been trading at 30-year lows over the last few days.