NEW YORK (AP) -- U.S. stocks surrendered early gains and finished mostly lower Wednesday as energy companies skidded with the price of oil. Apple led technology companies higher. The mixed finish came after three days of big, erratic moves.
The Dow Jones industrial average gained 96 points about an hour after trading began, but those gains slipped away as the day wore on. The price of oil fell about 3 percent for the second day in a row and energy companies fell with it. Household goods companies also slipped. Bond yields decreased after a big gain the day before, and high-dividend utility stocks made gains.
Investors have sent stocks in different directions as they wonder if the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates next week, and they're also speculating about the health of the global economy.
Bonds also reflected that confusion as they changed direction again. Yields fell and prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 1.70 percent. A day earlier it jumped to 1.73 percent, the highest in almost three months.
David Lefkowitz, senior equity strategist at UBS Wealth Management Americas, said investors aren't sure what the Federal Reserve and central banks in Europe and Japan will do. But he said they're expecting higher interest rates, or at least less economic stimulus.
"There's now a growing consensus that perhaps we're looking at a rising interest rate environment rather than a falling one," he said.
The Dow Jones industrial average lost 31.98 points, or 0.2 percent, to 18,034. The Standard & Poor's 500 index dipped 1.25 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,125.77. The Nasdaq composite climbed 18.52 points, or 0.4 percent, to 5,173.77.
After four months of public negotiations, seed and weedkiller maker Monsanto agreed to be bought by German drug and farm chemical company Bayer for $57 billion in cash. Bayer makes a wide range of crop protection chemicals that kill weeds, bugs and fungus, while Monsanto is known for its seeds business and the weedkiller Glyphosate. It rose 66 cents to $106.76.
Benchmark U.S. crude lost $1.32, or 2.9 percent, to finish at $43.58 a barrel in New York. That came after a 3 percent drop on Tuesday. The international standard, Brent crude, fell $1.25, or 2.7 percent, to $45.85 a barrel in London.
Energy companies also as well. Chevron gave up $1.01, or 1 percent, to $98.42 and Murphy Oil lost $1, or 3.8 percent, to $25.14.
Drugstore chains Walgreens fell $1.27, or 1.5 percent, to $80.98 and CVS Health shed $1.49, or 1.6 percent, to $89.44.
Apple picked up $3.88, or 3.6 percent, to $111.83, for its second day of big gains. Apple rose Tuesday after T-Mobile said it's getting strong preorders for the new iPhones. Apple gets most of its revenue from the iPhone, and those sales, while still enormous, have finally started to decline in the last year. That's hurt Apple stock, which traded above $130 a little more than a year ago.
Stocks are at their lowest levels in two months after big losses Friday and Tuesday. In between came a big gain on Monday.
"We're just kind of reverting back to a normal level of volatility," Lefkowitz said. "We got almost lulled to sleep because things were so unusually quiet in the last six weeks of the summer."
Dermatology drug developer Vitae Pharmaceuticals soared to $20.85 after it agreed to be bought by Allergan, the maker of Botox. The deal values Vitae at $21 per share, or $606 million. Vitae, which doesn't have any approved products, closed at $8.10 on Tuesday. Allergan rose $4.71, or 2 percent, to $244.81.
Ford dipped 24 cents, or 1.9 percent, to $12.14 after it said its pretax profit will fall this year. Ford also said its results will weaken further in 2017 as the company invests more money in electric and autonomous cars and its costs rise. The automaker expects results to start improving in 2018.
Cracker Barrel Old Country Store gave up $10.55, or 7 percent, to $139.98 after investors weren't impressed with the restaurant chain's projections for the current fiscal year.
In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline lost 2 cents to $1.36 a gallon. Heating oil fell 4 cents, or 2.9 percent, to $1.38 a gallon. Natural gas gave up 2 cents to $2.89 per 1,000 cubic feet.
The price of gold gained $2.40 to $1,326.10 an ounce. Silver rose 9 cents to $19.07 an ounce. Copper climbed 5 cents, or 2.5 percent, to $2.16 a pound.
The dollar fell to 102.42 yen from 102.72 yen. The euro rose to $1.1249 from $1.1208.
The CAC 40 in France fell 0.4 percent and Germany's DAX edged up 0.1 percent. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares rose 0.1 percent. Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 lost 0.7 percent and Hong Kong's Hang Seng was down 0.1 percent. South Korean markets were closed for a national holiday.