Stocks Flat to Lower in Afternoon Trade

NEW YORK (AP) -- U.S. stocks were flat to lower in mid-afternoon trading Friday as encouraging economic news in the U.S. was weighed down by the price of oil, which has turned lower. Stocks were still on pace to be up for the second straight week, however.

Utility stocks also fell sharply, as the encouraging economic news caused interest rates to rise and made dividend-paying utility stocks less attractive.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average fell 28 points, or 0.2 percent, to 16,667 as of 2:10 p.m. Eastern. The Standard & Poor's 500 index lost one point, or 0.05 percent, to 1,951 and the Nasdaq composite rose seven points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,589.

All three indexes are up just under 2 percent this week and the Dow and S&P 500 are positive for February, a turnaround from the dismal performance for the stock market in January.

POSITIVE MOMENTUM: The U.S. economy grew at a faster pace in the fourth quarter than originally estimated, the Commerce Department said Friday, helping soothe concerns that the U.S. economy was starting to sputter. The gross domestic product, the broadest measure of economic health, grew at an annual rate of 1 percent in the fourth quarter, an improvement from the first estimate of 0.7 percent. Economists were expecting a reading of 0.4 percent growth.

"We are finally seeing some stabilization in the economic data --- durable goods numbers, retail sales, and this second reading on GDP --- that will hopefully end this debate on whether the U.S. economy is heading toward recession," said Quincy Krosby, a market strategist with Prudential Financial.

LACK OF POWER: Utility stocks sank sharply. The Dow Jones utility index, a basket of 15 utility companies, fell 2.7 percent. Utility stocks tend to do better at times of low interest rates or economic uncertainty because their reliable business model and high dividend make them a "safety" play for investors. Investors were selling other relatively safe investments as well. Government bond prices fell, pushing the yield on the 10-year Treasury note up to 1.77 percent from 1.72 percent the day before. Gold prices also fell, down $17.20 to $1,211.68 an ounce.

CHINA CURRENCY: Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of China's central bank, said at the G-20 meeting in Shanghai that China would not engage in currency devaluations for the sake of its export competitiveness. China's currency devaluations have been a source of concern for investors since August, when the country surprised global markets with an unexpected yuan devaluation and trigged fears that the world's second-largest economy was slowing down far faster than thought.

OIL: U.S. crude gained 10 cents to $33.18 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange, but those gains were only a fraction of what they were earlier in the day. Brent crude, the global benchmark, fell 16 cents to $35.59 a barrel.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 113.78 yen from 112.30 in the previous day's trading. The euro edge down to $1.0925 from $1.1020.

(KA)