Stocks Mixed at Midday

NEW YORK (AP) -- U.S. stocks are little changed in midday trading Thursday after an early gain evaporated.

Health care companies are broadly higher as pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts jumps after health insurer Cigna agreed to buy it. Banks are down in tandem with bond yields and energy companies are slipping with oil prices.

President Donald Trump is expected to announce tariffs on steel and aluminum imports that give exemptions to Canada and Mexico. The tariffs are opposed by many Congressional Republicans and business leaders.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 index slipped 2 points to 2,724 as of noon Eastern time. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 76 points, or 0.3 percent, to 24,723. The Nasdaq composite headed higher for the fifth day in a row, climbing 4 points, or 0.1 percent, to 7,401.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks dipped 3 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,570. The index jumped 4.5 percent over the past four days as discussion about the proposed tariffs prompted investors to buy U.S.-focused companies and sell more multinational firms.

Losers outnumbered winners on the New York Stock Exchange.

EXPRESS YOURSELF: The insurer Cigna will spend about $52 billion to acquire the nation's biggest pharmacy benefit manager, Express Scripts, the latest in a string of proposed tie-ups as health care's bill payers attempt to get a grip on rising costs. Express Scripts jumped $7.90, or 10.8 percent, to $81.32 while Cigna lost $18.94, or 9.8 percent, to $175.31.

In the last few years several other big health insurers have created their own pharmacy benefits management businesses, while late last year, drugstore chain and pharmacy benefits manager CVS agreed to buy insurer Aetna for $69 billion. Pharmacy benefit managers run drug plans for insurers and employer-based plans. Like health insurers, they have struggled to corral spiraling costs.

SPOILAGE: Grocery store Kroger posted a bigger fourth-quarter profit and said its digital sales almost doubled in the past year, but its profit forecast for the current year disappointed investors. Kroger expects to earn between $1.95 and $2.15 a share for the year, while FactSet says analysts expected a profit of $2.15 per share on average. The stock fell $3.29, or 12.5 percent, to $22.94.

TRADE WINDS: Trump is preparing to announce tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, the White House said, but will offer temporary exemptions to Canada and Mexico. Investors hoped the tariffs wouldn't apply to all countries because that signals a more moderate approach to trade.

Stocks slumped early Wednesday as investors felt the departure of Trump economic adviser Gary Cohn, along with Trump's comments about an intellectual property dispute with China, meant the administration intended to take a harder line in the future. The market recovered most of its losses after the White House said some countries might be exempt from the metals tariffs.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude fell 85 cents, or 1.4 percent, to $60.309 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, lost 62 cents, or 1 percent, to $63.72 a barrel in London. That led to more losses for energy companies.

BONDS: Bond prices edged higher. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note declined to 2.85 percent from 2.88 percent. Banks traded lower, as lower yields mean they can't make as much money from lending.

OVERSEAS: The CAC 40 in France added 1.4 percent and the DAX in Germany rose 1 percent. In Britain the FTSE 100 gained 0.6 percent. That came after the European Central Bank hinted that it is closer to exiting its extraordinary monetary stimulus effort. At the end of its latest meeting, the ECB omitted a promise that it could increase its bond purchases if the economy worsens.

The Hang Seng in Hong Kong jumped 1.5 percent while Japan's Nikkei 225 index edged 0.1 percent higher. The South Korean Kospi gained 1.3 percent.

UNPRINTABLE: Publisher Tronc plunged $4.63, or 23.4 percent, to $15.19 after its profit fell short of Wall Street forecasts. Also sinking was homebuilder Hovnanian Enterprises, which had a disappointing first quarter. It gave up 15 cents, or 6.4 percent, to $2.13.

CURRENCIES: The dollar inched up to 106.08 yen from 106.07 yen. The euro fell to $1.2321 from $1.2403.

(BE)