Stocks Inch Ahead Midday

NEW YORK (AP) -- The stock market pulled modestly higher in midday trading on Wednesday following a sleepy start, and the Standard & Poor's 500 index was on track for its seventh straight gain. Other markets were also relatively quiet, with little movement across bonds and commodities.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 index was up 4 points, or 0.2 percent, at 2,539, as of noon Eastern time. Earlier in the morning, it had flipped between very small gains and losses of about 0.1 percent.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 33, or 0.1 percent, to 22,675, the Nasdaq composite rose 7, or 0.1 percent, to 6,538 and the Russell 2000 index of small-cap stocks gained 1 point, or 0.1 percent, to 1,513. All four indexes set records on Tuesday.

ECONOMY WATCH: A report from payroll processor ADP said that hiring by private employers weakened sharply last month, a setback for an economy that had been enjoying a generally strengthening job market. But economists and investors were expecting a low number because of the damage done by hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which hopefully will be only temporary.

The government will release its more comprehensive jobs report on Friday, and economists are also forecasting a weaker number for that.

Other reports painted a more encouraging picture. One showed that the nation's services companies expanded last month at their fastest rate in more than a decade. The report from the Institute for Supply Management followed another one on Monday that showed U.S. manufacturing is also growing strongly.

"Things continue to be very solid, and the economic numbers continue to be very strong not only here but throughout the world, which is what's driving this," said Kirk Hartman, global chief investment officer for Wells Fargo Asset Management.

APPROVED: Mylan surged to the biggest gain in the S&P 500 after federal regulators approved its generic version of Teva's Copaxone drug for multiple sclerosis. Mylan jumped $6.19, or 19 percent, to $38.72.

OUT OF OFFICE: Office Depot plunged after it said it wants to broaden its business beyond traditional office products and announced a $1 billion purchase of CompuCom Systems, an IT services and products provider. The deal's value includes the repayment of debt.

Office Depot also cut its forecast for how much operating profit it expects to earn this year. It said the busy hurricane season hurt its results, as did a slower back-to-school shopping season. The stock fell 69 cents, or 15.1 percent, to $3.90.

ISLAND TROUBLES: Companies that provide insurance for bond investors were already struggling amid fears that Puerto Rico will have a difficult time repaying its debt following the damage it took from Hurricane Maria. But they fell even further after President Donald Trump suggested in an interview with Fox News that the federal government may "wipe out" the debt.

MBIA fell 58 cents, or 6.7 percent, to $8.10, Ambac Financial Group lost 87 cents, or 4.9 percent, to $16.81 and Assured Guaranty dropped $1.12, or 2.9 percent, to $37.57.

FED WATCH: Speculation is rising about who the next chair of the Federal Reserve will be, after Janet Yellen's term ends in February. President Trump has said previously that he may consider Yellen for another term, but other names have been floated in media reports including Kevin Warsh, a former Fed board member.

Under Yellen and her predecessor, Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve has unleashed unprecedented amounts of stimulus for the economy in hopes of recovering from the Great Recession. The central bank is now slowly pulling back the aid, and investors wonder if the next Fed chair may be more aggressive about it.

Yellen is scheduled to speak at a conference Wednesday afternoon in St. Louis.

YIELDS: Prices and yields for Treasurys generally held steady. The yield on the 10-year Treasury ticked up to 2.34 percent from 2.33 percent late Tuesday. The two-year yield slipped to 1.47 percent from 1.48 percent late Tuesday, and the 30-year yield rose to 2.89 percent from 2.87 percent.

COMMODITIES: Benchmark U.S. crude was flat at $50.42 per barrel, while Brent crude, the standard for international oil prices, fell 7 cents to $55.93 per barrel.

Gold rose $1.10 to $1,275.60.

CURRENCIES: The dollar inched up to 112.91 Japanese yen from 112.90 yen late Tuesday. The euro rose to $1.1763 from $1.1752, and the British pound rose to $1.3275 from $1.3247.

MARKETS ABROAD: In Europe, France's CAC 40 fell 0.1 percent, Germany's DAX gained 0.5 percent and the FTSE 100 in London was close to flat.

In Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 added 0.1 percent, and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong climbed 0.7 percent.

(BE)