U.S. stock indexes waver between small gains and losses

U.S. stock indexes wavered between small gains and losses in afternoon trading Thursday as investors weighed the latest company earnings news and moves in oil markets. Energy companies were down after a meeting of OPEC ministers ended without an agreement on crude production cuts. Technology stocks also fell.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average edged up 6 points to 17,796 as of 2 p.m. Eastern time. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was little changed at 2,100. The Nasdaq composite index gained 5 points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,957.

THE QUOTE: Trading has been subdued as investors hold out for more clues as to whether the Federal Reserve will raise its key interest rate at the central bank’s next meeting of policymakers later this month.

“This is just noise trading around on low volume,” said Scott Wren, senior global equity strategist at Wells Fargo Investment Institute. “Even with tomorrow’s employment data coming out, I don’t think there’s much that’s going to move the market out of this range we’ve been in until we get some clarity out of the Fed.”

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ENERGY: OPEC oil ministers ended a meeting in Vienna without reaching a consensus on regulating supplies. Crude oil prices bounced back after an initial slide. Benchmark U.S. crude oil rose 13 cents, or 0.3 percent, to $49.14 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, which is used to price international oils, was up 25 cents, or 0.5 percent, at $49.97 a barrel in London.

OIL FALLOUT: Shares in several oil drilling and exploration companies were down. Diamond Offshore Drilling lost 93 cents, or 3.7 percent, to $24.38, while Transocean slid 18 cents, or 1.8 percent, to $9.65. Anadarko Petroleum fell 95 cents, or 1.8 percent, to $51.44.

ROUGH QUARTER: Conn’s sank 23.6 percent after the retailer reported quarterly results that fell short of analysts’ estimates. The stock lost $2.77 to $8.95.

IN THE CLOUD: Online storage provider Box tumbled 10.1 percent after the company reported disappointing results late Wednesday. The stock fell $1.29 to $11.52.

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COME ON, VOGUE: Johnson & Johnson rose on news the company has agreed to buy privately-held hair care products maker Vogue International for about $3.3 billion. Vogue’s hair care products are sold in the U.S. and 38 other countries. Johnson & Johnson shares rose $1.17, or 1 percent, to $113.95.

SEXY SALES: L Brands, the company behind the Victoria’s Secret brand, rose 4 percent after it reported its latest sales figures. The stock added $2.80 to $71.21.

LAYOFFS PROXY: The Labor Department said fewer Americans applied for jobless aid last week, the third straight drop in a sign that the job market remains healthy despite a recent slowdown in hiring. Weekly applications for unemployment aid dipped 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 267,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell to 276,750.

MARKETS OVERSEAS: In Europe, stock indexes were mixed after the European Central Bank said that its stimulus measures are helping the economy of the 19 countries that use the euro and need time to work before any new monetary jolts are added. Germany’s DAX was flat, while France’s CAC 40 fell 0.2 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 lost 0.1 percent. In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 fell 2.3 percent after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe decided to postpone a sales tax hike to avoid shocks to the faltering recovery. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index rose 0.5 percent. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 lost 0.8 percent. South Korea’s KOSPI rose 0.1 percent.

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BONDS AND CURRENCIES: U.S. government bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 1.80 percent from 1.84 late Wednesday. In currency markets, the dollar fell to 108.82 yen from 109.54 in the previous day’s trading. The euro fell to $1.1159 from $1.1186.

METALS: Precious and industrial metals futures closed little changed. Gold fell $2.10 to $1,212.60 an ounce, silver gained 10 cents to $16.03 an ounce and copper was flat at $2.07 a pound.