NEW YORK (AP) -- U.S. stock indexes held steady Wednesday, following drops for markets around the world. The Standard & Poor's 500 index flipped between small gains and losses after coming off its first three-day losing streak since the summer.
The recent losses have been relatively gentle, and the S&P 500 is still up more than 17 percent for 2017. But if the S&P 500 ends the day down again, a four-day losing streak would be an unusual occurrence in a year that has been such a calm and easy one for investors. The last time the S&P 500 fell four straight days was in January.
KEEPING SCORE: The S&P 500 was virtually flat at 2,631 as of 1:30 p.m. Eastern time. It had flip-flopped between a loss of 0.2 percent and a gain of 0.1 percent earlier in the day.
The Dow Jones industrial average was up 14, or 0.1 percent, at 24,196, and the Nasdaq composite was up 12, or 0.2 percent, at 6,774. Small-company stocks fell. The Russell 2000 index gave up 4 points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,512. More stocks fell on the New York Stock Exchange than rose.
MARKETS ABROAD: Asian markets slumped sharply, and Japan's Nikkei 225 index lost 2 percent for its worst day since March. The Hang Seng in Hong Kong dropped 2.1 percent, and South Korea's Kospi lost 1.4 percent.
In Europe, markets trimmed their losses as the day progressed. Germany's DAX dropped 0.4 percent, and France's CAC 40 ended little changed. The FTSE 100 in London rose 0.3 percent.
NO SMILES: Companies in the dental industry sank to some of the sharpest losses in the S&P 500 on worries that Amazon will break into the market and drive down earnings for rivals.
Patterson Companies lost $2.12, or 5.8 percent, to $34.20 for the largest loss in the index, and Henry Schein fell $3.58, or 5 percent, to $67.52.
Analysts at Morgan Stanley cut their financial estimates for the companies on signs that Amazon has gotten access to a key dental equipment maker and may line up others in coming years, among other factors.
HEALTHY COMBINATIONS: DaVita jumped to the biggest gain in the S&P 500 after UnitedHealth Group said it will buy DaVita's medical group, which serves patients through nearly 300 medical clinics, for $4.9 billion in cash.
DaVita jumped $8, or 13 percent, to $68.93.
It's the latest proposed combination to reshape the health care industry. Earlier this week, CVS Health said it will buy Aetna, the nation's third-largest health insurer.
STRENGTHENING STEEL: Stocks of U.S. steelmakers jumped after the Commerce Department said it would order duties imposed on some steel products being imported from Vietnam.
U.S. Steel jumped $1.46, or 5 percent, to $31.29, AK Steel rose 24 cents, or 5.1 percent, to $5.06 and Nucor gained 94 cents, or 1.6 percent, to $58.58.
ECONOMY: The main drivers for the stock market much of this year have been the improving global economy and a resulting jump in profits for businesses. A report on Wednesday implied that the U.S. job market continues to strengthen.
Private employers added 190,000 jobs last month, according to a report from payroll processor ADP. Economists see the report as a relatively good indication of what the more comprehensive federal government's jobs tally will show.
That report arrives on Friday, and it will be one of the last pieces of major economic data released before the Federal Reserve's meeting next week on interest rates. Most economists expect the Fed to raise rates, which would be the third increase of the year.
EARNINGS BOOST: H&R Block and liquor company Brown-Forman both jumped after reporting stronger-than-expected profits for their latest quarters.
H&R Block rose $1.86, or 7.1 percent, to $28.15. Brown-Forman, whose brands include Jack Daniel's whiskey and Finlandia vodka, gained $3.36, or 5.4 percent, to $65.17.
YIELDS: Treasury yields sank as prices for government bonds rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note dropped to 2.32 percent from 2.35 percent late Tuesday. The two-year yield sank to 1.81 percent from 1.83 percent, and the 30-year yield fell to 2.71 percent from 2.73 percent.
CURRENCIES: The dollar dipped to 112.30 Japanese yen from 112.62 yen late Monday. The euro fell to $1.1783 from $1.1816, and the British pound slipped to $1.3385 from $1.3442.
COMMODITIES: Benchmark U.S. crude lost $1.34, or 2.3 percent, to $56.28 per barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, lost $1.29 to $61.57.
Gold ticked up by 50 cents to $1,265.40 per ounce, and silver fell 10 cents to $15.97 per ounce. Copper recovered a fraction of its sharp loss from the day before and rose 3 cents to $2.97 per pound.