Gains in Energy Stocks Bring U.S. Indexes Back to Breakeven

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Trader Peter Tuchman works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

U.S. stocks are little changed at midday Tuesday as energy companies move higher with the price of oil. Other industries aren’t moving much overall, with industrial companies higher and banks trading lower. Department stores, apparel companies and handbag makers are falling, but Amazon continues to rise.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was unchanged at 2,358 of 12:15 p.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 43 points, or 0.2 percent, to 20,693. The Nasdaq composite remained at 5,894. The Russell 2000 index of small-company stocks held steady at 1,370. On the New York Stock Exchange, more stocks fell than rose.

OIL: Benchmark U.S. crude rose 74 cents, or 1.5 percent, to $50.98 52 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, added 93 cents, or 1.8 percent, to $54.05 a barrel in London. Anadarko Petroleum added 69 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $62.48. The price of natural gas jumped 4.5 percent to $3.27 per 1,000 cubic feet; and Southwestern Energy climbed 58 cents, or 7.3 percent, to $8.47 — while Range Resources gained $1, or 3.5 percent, to $29.57.

TELECOM TIE-UP: Alaskan telecommunications company General Communications agreed to be bought by online commerce holding company Liberty Interactive for $32.50 per share, or about $1.1 billion. Liberty wants to combine General Communications with its stakes in Liberty Broadband, Charter Communications and LendingTree and then spin them off into a separate company.

After that, Liberty Interactive will change its name to QVC Group and will focus on online retail.

General Communications jumped $12.91, or 62.8 percent, to $33.47; and Liberty Interactive added 23 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $20.20.

STAPLES TRYING AGAIN? Office-supply company Staples climbed after The Wall Street Journal reported that Staples is talking to private equity firms about a potential sale. Staples tried to buy competitor Office Depot for $6.3 billion, but gave up on that effort last May after regulators opposed it and a federal judge agreed, saying it would reduce competition. Staples jumped 84 cents, or 9.7 percent, to $9.50.

CONN IS ON: Furniture and mattress retailer Conn’s surged after it announced a deal with Progressive Leasing, which will offer lease-to-own options to customers who don’t qualify for credit offered by Conn’s. Conn’s said that working with Progressive could improve its sales. The company’s fourth-quarter adjusted profit and sales were also a bit better than analysts expected. The stock rose $2.56, or 30.3 percent, to $11.01.

TAKEOFF: The Commerce Department said that orders to U.S. factories continued to grow in February, thanks to greater demand for commercial aircraft. Manufacturers have been recovering recently from a rough patch that was caused by weak economies overseas and the strong dollar, which made U.S. goods more expensive.

However, a measurement of business investment spending decreased for the first time since September.

RETAIL SLUMP: Urban Outfitters lost 77 cents, or 4.3 percent, to $22.43 after it said sales at older stores have fallen over the last two months. It said those sales fell more than expected. Other retailers also lost ground. Department store Kohl’s fell $1.54, or 3.9 percent, to $37.61; and Gap shed 62 cents, or 2.6 percent, to $23.09. Online rival Amazon gained $9.01, or 1 percent, to $900.52.

Ralph Lauren dropped $3.87, or 4.8 percent, to $77.50 after it said it will close its Fifth Avenue store less than three years after it opened.

Handbag-and-accessories maker Kate Spade slumped after Reuters said that the company will take more time to negotiate a possible sale. The report cited anonymous sources and said that if Kate Spade is sold to a buyer like Michael Kors or Coach, it will likely be for less than the company’s recent valuation of $2.9 billion. Kate Spade sank $3.37, or 14.8 percent, to $19.43.

LIGHTS OUT: Lighting maker Acuity Brands tumbled after its second-quarter profit and sales disappointed analysts. The company said that the market for smaller projects remains weak, while sales in Europe, Mexico, and some other international markets were down and manufacturing costs were higher. The stock shed $225.24, or 12.5 percent, to $178.84.

BONDS: Bond prices inched lower. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.35 percent from 2.33 percent.

CURRENCIES: The dollar slipped to 110.74 yen from 110.96 yen. The euro slipped to $1.0663 from $1.0665.

OVERSEAS: Britain’s FTSE 100 gained 0.5 percent, and the CAC 40 in France rose 0.3 percent. In Germany, the DAX added 0.2 percent. The Japanese Nikkei 225 fell 0.9 percent as the yen gained against the U.S. dollar. The South Korean Kospi slipped 0.3 percent. Markets in Hong Kong and Shanghai were closed for public holidays.