Stocks waver after a 3-day rally; Wal-Mart sinks retailers

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are mostly lower Thursday as a three-day rally loses steam. Consumer stocks are sliding after Wal-Mart reported disappointing results and cut its sales projections, and bank stocks are giving up some of their recent gains. Investors are applauding IBM’s latest acquisition.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average rose 4 points to 16,457 as of 2:35 p.m. Eastern time. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 3 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,923. The Nasdaq composite shed 25 points, or 0.6 percent, to 4,509.

The S&P 500 jumped more than 5 percent over the past three days, with banks and consumer stocks making the biggest gains. That rally erased about half of the index’s losses since the beginning of the year.

SALES STUMBLE: Wal-Mart said its profit slipped in the fiscal fourth quarter as its sales came in weaker than analysts expected. The retailer now says its net sales this year will be about the same as in 2015. Wal-Mart is struggling with competition from online giant Amazon and other retailers, and in January the company said it would close 269 stores. Its shares are down 27 percent over the last year.

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The stock lost $1.40, or 2.1 percent, to $64.71, and competitor Kroger shed 2.9 percent to $38.27. Costco gave up 1.2 percent to $149.15.

CRUDE WOBBLES: Oil prices fluctuated after a big rally over the last few days. Oil prices opened higher, then slumped after the U.S. government said fuel stockpiles grew last week, and later recovered to make small gains.

U.S. crude added 11 cents to close at $30.77 a barrel in New York. The price of U.S. oil has climbed 17 percent over the last week. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, lost 22 cents to close at $34.28 a barrel in London. Oil prices have surged recently as major oil-producing nations continued to talk about a deal that could limit production.

At least six OPEC nations, including Saudi Arabia, have backed a plan to keep oil production at January’s levels so it won’t increase any further. That would help address a giant supply glut and strengthen prices, which have fallen to their lowest level in about 13 years.

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Iran, which has not agreed to the deal and has said it wants to keep increasing its production, said it supports any measure to raise oil prices. Investors saw that as a good sign, but the deal won’t go into effect unless all 13 OPEC members agree to it.

THE QUOTE: The government reported that U.S. energy stockpiles continued to grow last week. Oil inventories grew by 2.1 million barrels and gasoline stockpiles increased by 3 million barrels.

Independent analyst Jim Ritterbusch said people are driving a bit more because the price of gas has plunged, but it’s not a big change, so it’s not helping improve prices.

“It looks like gasoline demand is still soft,” he said. “You can only buy and sell so many SUVs.”

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While oil companies have shut down hundreds of oil drilling rigs, it will be months before oil production really slows down because drilling operations have become much more efficient.

UNEMPLOYMENT: Weekly applications for unemployment benefits declined last week to a three-month low, a sign that hiring has remained solid despite big swings in the market. It’s the latest sign that the economy is still growing and consumers are still spending even though the market has been turbulent.

BANKS SLIDE: Financial stocks took the biggest losses. They had made the largest gains during the three-day rally, as the S&P 500’s financial stock index jumped more than 7 percent. JPMorgan Chase retreated $1.16, or 2 percent, to $57.61 and Bank of America fell 35 cents, or 2.7 percent, to $12.22.

BIG BLUE BOUNCE: IBM climbed after the company said it will buy Truven Health analytics for $2.6 billion, expanding the health care capabilities of its Watson cognitive computing system. IBM rose $6.70, or 5.3 percent, to $132.80, by far the largest gain in the Dow average.

ANOTHER DEAL: Logistics company Ingram Micro surged $6.34, or 21.4 percent, to $35.99 after it agreed to be bought by Chinese shipping company Tianjin Tianhai. The deal values Ingram at about $6 billion, or $38.90 per share.

SECURITY BLANKET: Investors returned again to the safe havens of telecom and utilities stocks. Those were the only S&P 500 sectors trading higher Thursday afternoon, and they’re also the only sectors that have made big gains in 2016.

CenturyLink rose 94 cents, or 3.2 percent, to $30.67 to lead telecom stocks. Among utilities, NextEra Energy advanced $2.83, or 2.5 percent, to $114.27 and FirstEnergy jumped $1.73, or 5.4 percent, to $34.

PERRIGO GOES DOWN: Perrigo, an Irish company that makes drugs, vitamins, and infant formula, lost $14.90, or 10.3 percent, to $130.26 after its fourth-quarter results fell short of Wall Street projections.

CHIPPING IN: Nvidia, a company that makes graphics chips and processors for phones and tablets, rose after it reported a stronger quarter than analysts had expected. The stock gained $2.66, or 9.6 percent, to $26.11.

OVERSEAS: European markets were mixed. Germany’s DAX rose 0.9 percent and France’s CAC 40 inched up 0.2 percent, but Britain’s FTSE 100 slipped 1 percent. Asian stock markets rose. Japan’s Nikkei 225 jumped 2.3 percent and South Korea’s Kospi rose 1.3 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng surged 2.3 percent.

METALS: Gold rose $14.90, or 1.2 percent, to $1,226.30 an ounce and silver added 5.5 cents to $15.432 an ounce. Copper inched down to $2.074 a pound.

BONDS, CURRENCIES: The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 1.77 percent from 1.82 percent. The euro fell to $1.1099 from $1.1139. The dollar slid to 113.58 yen from 113.77 yen.

OTHER ENERGY TRADING: Wholesale gasoline fell 3.1 cents to 97.2 cents a gallon. Heating oil declined 0.9 cents to $1.079 a gallon. Natural gas slipped 9 cents, or 4.6 percent, to $1.852 per 1,000 cubic feet.