US Markets Start Week in Neutral

US Markets Start Week in Neutral

NEW YORK (AP) -- U.S. stocks started off Monday neutral as traders weighed corporate earnings and inaction by the world's leading economic policymakers. Mining and chemicals companies made the largest gains and health care stocks skidded.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average lost 17 points to 16,622 as of 10:30 a.m. Eastern time. The Standard & Poor's 500 index dipped 2 points, or 0.1 percent, to 1,946. The Nasdaq composite added 5 points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,595.

DIGGING FOR GOLD: On the last trading day of February U.S. stocks remained on track to finish the month up for the first time since November. The February gain has been led by the materials sector of the S&P 500, which includes mining companies that have been helped by a surge in the price of precious metals. The price of gold has climbed 10.5 percent this month and silver is up 4 percent. On Monday, mining and oil and gas company Freeport-McMoRan added 26 cents, or 3.5 percent, to $7.69.

OVERSEAS NEWS: Policymakers at a weekend meeting of the Group of 20 rich and developing countries promised to use "all tools" at their disposal to bolster weak global growth, but they didn't announce any specific moves. Some relief emerged with the news that China's monetary authorities had cut the amount of deposits that banks have to keep in reserve at the central bank. That should free up cash for banks to lend. The government also guided the yuan lower.

SIGNET SPARKLES: Signet Jewelers climbed after it signaled better results for its most recent quarter. The jewelry retailer forecast a larger profit and better sales than analysts expected. The stock jumped $9.55, or 9.6 percent, to $108.68.

VALEANT TUMBLES: Valeant Pharmaceuticals slid after the company withdrew its financial forecasts and said it's not ready to release preliminary fourth-quarter results. The stock gave up $6.88, or 8.5 percent, to $73.77.

Concern over Valeant's forecasts also hit rival specialty drug companies Endo International, which lost $7.48, or 14.1 percent, to $45.46, and Mallinckrodt, which fell $3.53, or 5.1 percent, to $65.71. Those stocks have been hit hard in recent months as scrutiny into their pricing strategies has grown.

TASER SURGES: Taser International jumped $2.04, or 11.7 percent, to $19.52 after the stun gun maker's profit and revenue topped estimates.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude oil rose 34 cents to $33.12 a barrel in New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, the global benchmark, added 73 cents, or 2.1 percent, to $36.17 a barrel in London.

EUROPE AND ASIA: In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of British shares was down 0.4 percent while Germany's DAX fell 1.1 percent. The CAC-40 in France was unchanged. The yen's strength weighed on Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225, which fell 1 percent. The Shanghai Composite Index tumbled 2.9 percent after the yuan's decline. Elsewhere, South Korea's Kospi dipped 0.2 percent and Hong Kong's Hang Seng slid 1.3 percent.

NRG POWERS DOWN: NRG Energy slumped on a disappointing earnings report. Its stock fell 36 cents, or 3.2 percent, to $10.72.

LUMBER STUMBLE: Lumber Liquidators Holdings continued to slide after it reported a bigger-than-expected loss and less revenue than analysts expected. The stock lost 95 cents, or 8.6 percent, to $10.16.

EUROPE DEFLATION: Stock markets in Europe were helped somewhat by news that inflation across the 19-country eurozone turned negative in February as consumer prices fell. The euro fell because traders expect further monetary stimulus from the European Central Bank at its meeting on March 10.

CURRENCIES: Bond prices rose and the yield on the 10-year Treasury note slipped to 1.74 from 1.76 percent. The euro fell to $1.0872 from $1.0928 and the dollar fell to 112.95 yen from 113.90 yen.

(KA)