Stocks Waver in Afternoon Trading

NEW YORK (AP) -- U.S. stocks are wavering between small gains and losses in afternoon trading Wednesday. Agribusiness giant Monsanto is leading a decline in materials stocks. A day earlier, stocks made their biggest gains in more than a month. Energy companies are rising as investors gain confidence that oil prices won't get any worse.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average slipped 10 points, or 0.1 percent, to 16,854 as of 1:29 p.m. Eastern time. The Standard & Poor's 500 index gained 1 point to 1,979. The Nasdaq composite edged down 5 points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,684.

The Dow and S&P 500 both climbed more than 2 percent Tuesday, while the Nasdaq rose almost 3 percent, its biggest gain since August.

IN THE WEEDS: Agribusiness giant Monsanto fell after cutting its annual profit forecast because of the strong dollar, competition from lower-cost generic products and lower commodity prices. The stock tumbled $6.98, or 7.5 percent, to $85.51. It's on pace for its biggest loss in four years.

TAKE A DRINK: Spirits maker Brown-Forman, whose brands include Jack Daniels, fell $1.91, or 2 percent, to $95.75 after lowering its own profit estimates. The company makes 60 percent of its sales overseas, and it's being affected by the strong dollar, cutbacks in travel, and weak economies in some emerging markets.

DOLLAR WOES: The strength of the dollar hurts U.S. companies in a variety of ways when they do business overseas: it makes their products more expensive compared to locally-produced goods, and it reduces their revenue when it's translated back into dollars.

Katie Nixon, chief investment officer of wealth management Northern Trust, said that matters because economic growth is so slow right now. So if U.S. goods are more expensive than locally-made ones, that's a problem.

Still, she said it's not a big problem for the U.S. economy as a whole, which relies more on services than sales of goods.

"The strong dollar is much more of an issue for the S&P 500 than it is for the U.S. economy," she said.

WINNERS: Energy stocks did the best, even though energy prices didn't change much. Marathon Oil added 68 cents, or 8.5 percent, to $8.64 and Murphy Oil gained $1.41, or 8.2 percent, to $18.63. Telecommunications stocks also rose, with Frontier Communications up 15 cents, or 2.7 percent, to $5.62 and CenturyLink rising 67 cents, or 2.2 percent, to $31.25.

The price of oil has been tumbling for almost two years, but has staged a small recovery over the last couple of weeks. U.S. crude closed at a 13-year low of $26.21 on Feb. 11.

TAKE FIVE: Sporting goods retailer Big 5 Sporting Goods fell $1.33, or 10 percent, to $11.96 as it offered a weak profit forecast, and competing retailer Sports Authority said it will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Sports Authority said it plans to close or sell about 140 stores, or almost a third of its locations.

JOBS: ADP, a payroll processing company, said private U.S. businesses added a healthy 214,000 jobs last month. That's the latest positive sign for the economy after reports on construction and manufacturing on Tuesday. The federal government will release its jobs report on Friday.

SEEKING STABILITY: Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 1.85 percent from 1.82 percent a day earlier. Bond yields also climbed on Tuesday.

"The Treasury yield is increasing because the economy is better than people had feared and investors feel that the Fed is going to hike rates," Nixon said.

Bond yields are still relatively low. That has helped telecommunications and utility stocks, which are seen as similar to bonds: they are less volatile stocks that tend to pay high dividends. Investors have favored them in recent months as the rest of the market turned turbulent. They are the best performing sectors in the market so far this year.

MORE EARNINGS: Digital health and wellness company Everyday Health leapt $1.05, or 22.4 percent, to $5.71 following a strong quarterly report. Insurance software company Guidewire Software also rose $1.78, or 3.9 percent, to $52.30 after its profit and sales surpassed expectations.

ZYNGA'S HIRE: Online games maker Zynga rose after the company named a new CEO. Board member and former Electronic Arts executive Frank Gibeau will become CEO next week. A year ago, company founder and controlling shareholder Mark Pincus returned to Zynga as CEO, replacing Don Mattrick, who had been on the job less than two years.

Zynga's has struggled to follow up on its early hit games including "FarmVille" and "Clumsy Ninja." The stock added 6 cents, or 2.8 percent, to $2.22. It traded over $14 in early 2012, shortly after going public.

OVERSEAS: Germany's DAX rose 0.6 percent and France's CAC rose 0.4 percent. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares dipped 0.1 percent after asset manager BlackRock warned that if the U.K. votes to leave European Union, the economy will be "economically worse off."

A weak yen added to investor optimism, sending Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 up 4.1 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 3.1 percent.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude edged up 11 cents to $34.51 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the benchmark for international oil, rose 1 cent to $36.82 a barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The euro slipped to $1.0855 from $1.0868 and the dollar fell to 113.60 yen after climbing to 114.05 yen Tuesday.

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