Stocks Flip Between Gains and Losses

NEW YORK (AP) -- Stocks flipped between modest gains and losses in early trading on Thursday, the latest meandering course for a market that's been pushed in many directions the last few weeks.

Food companies struggled after the makers of Spam and Folgers coffee reported weaker results than expected. Retailers were big winners after a variety of them, from those that sell $1 dinner plates to $64,000 earrings, said they earned bigger profits last quarter than Wall Street forecast.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 3 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,441 as of 10:08 a.m. Eastern time. Earlier in the morning, it had been up 0.3 percent.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 35 points, or 0.2 percent, to 21,776, the Nasdaq composite fell 16, or 0.2 percent, to 6,263 and the Russell 2000 index of small-cap stocks rose nearly 2 points, or 0.1 percent, to 1,372.

UP AND DOWN AND BACK AGAIN: The S&P 500 has been bouncing up and down since setting a record high earlier this month. Helping stocks has been a better-than-expected earnings reporting season, as companies in the S&P 500 have reported stronger profit for the spring quarter than analysts forecast, as well as healthier revenue.

Hurting stocks have been worries about politics both in Washington and abroad. Doubts are rising about how much help the Republican-led White House and Congress can provide for businesses, and several crucial deadlines are coming up that could damage the economy, including a vote to avert a default on the national debt.

This week has also featured fewer trades on the stock market than usual, with few market-moving events on the calendar. That may be exacerbating moves for the market. For all the noise, though, the S&P 500 is still within 1.5 percent of its record.

CENTRAL BANK WATCH: One event that could capture the market's attention is a symposium of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which begins Thursday. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen and European Central Bank President Mario Draghi are both due to speak. Few analysts expect to hear major surprises.

JAMMED: J.M. Smucker fell to the biggest loss in the S&P 500 after reporting profit for the latest quarter that fell short of Wall Street's expectations. It cited weaker-than-expected sales for Folgers coffee, and it also lowered the range for its forecast of full-year profit. The stock dropped $8.73, or 7.3 percent, to $110.12.

SPAMMED: Hormel Foods fell after it cut its forecast for full-year earnings due to higher costs for pork bellies and other ingredients. It also reported weaker earnings for the latest quarter than analysts expected, due in part to a soft quarter for Muscle Milk and other products hurt results. Its stock lost $2.35, or 6.9 percent, to $31.58.

DAZZLING: Signet Jewelers jumped to the biggest gain in the S&P 500 after it said strong sales of bracelets, rings and necklaces helped it report bigger revenue and profit for the latest quarter than analysts expected. Its stock jumped $11.28, or 21.7 percent, to $63.17.

A TREE GROWS: Dollar Tree, whose stores sell $1 towels and $1 Champagne flutes, surged after it also reported stronger earnings than Wall Street forecast. Customers bought more at each store visit than they did a year ago. Dollar Tree's stock rose $6.18, or 8.3 percent, to $80.50.

BLUE BOX BINGE: Tiffany, the luxury retailer that sells $150,000 necklaces, rose after reporting stronger profit and revenue for the latest quarter than expected. Its stock gained 94 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $89.66.

MARKETS ABROAD: France's CAC 40 rose 0.2 percent, the FTSE 100 in London gained 0.5 percent and Germany's DAX index climbed 0.5 percent. Japan's Nikkei 225 index fell 0.4 percent, the Hang Seng in Hong Kong rose 0.4 percent and South Korea's Kospi index gained 0.4 percent.

YIELDS: The yield on the 10-year Treasury held steady at 2.17 percent. The two-year yield inched up to 1.32 percent from 1.31 percent late Wednesday, and the 30-year yield was flat at 2.75 percent.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 109.17 to Japanese yen from 109.01 yen late Wednesday. The euro fell to $1.1803 from $1.1821, and the British pound rose to $1.2811 from $1.2804.

COMMODITIES: Benchmark U.S. crude fell 44 cents to $47.97 per barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, fell 40 cents to $52.17.

Gold lost 30 cents to $1,294.40 per ounce, silver fell 8 cents to $16.97 per ounce and copper added 2 cents to $3.00 per pound.