Stocks End Thursday Mostly Lower

NEW YORK (AP) -- Stocks finished mostly lower Thursday in another choppy day of trading after a midday rally faded. Industrial and technology companies rose, but smaller companies and chemical makers skidded.

Without any major economic reports or further development on issues like tariffs, stocks drifted up and down. The market was coming off two days of losses, and while stocks briefly moved higher in the middle of the day, they couldn't sustain any momentum.

Agribusiness company Monsanto fell after Bloomberg News reported that U.S. authorities have concerns about its sale to Bayer and might order Bayer to sell more assets. Toymakers Hasbro and Mattel sagged as Toys R Us moved toward shuttering its U.S. stores.

Industrial companies bounced back after three days of declines that stemmed from worries about trade tensions. After big gains earlier this month, smaller, more U.S.-focused companies continued to slip. Drugstores and packaged food companies also declined. Technology companies finished with small gains, however.

Tech stocks did far better than the rest of the stock market in 2017, and they are the only part of the S&P 500 that has fully recovered from last month's sell-off, and Lindsey Bell, an investment strategist at CFRA Research, thinks there is a good chance the industry will outpace the broader market again this year.

"Our economy in general and our world in general is becoming more connected digitally and this is an area that's going to continue to thrive as time goes on," Bell said. She added that chipmakers and service companies like Alphabet and Facebook should continue to do well.

The S&P 500 fell 2.15 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,747.33. It climbed as much as 13 points earlier but wound up with its fourth consecutive loss. The Dow Jones industrial average added 115.54 points, or 0.5 percent, to 24,873.66. The Nasdaq composite lost 15.07 points, or 0.2 percent, to 7,481.74. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks slid 7.69 points, or 0.5 percent, to 1,576.62.

Most the companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange traded lower.

Monsanto stock fell $5.95, or 4.8 percent, to $117.20 after Bloomberg News reported that antitrust regulators want Bayer to sell more assets before they allow the company to buy Monsanto. The report cited unnamed sources familiar with the matter. Bayer agreed to buy Monsanto for $66 billion in 2016, and its U.S.-traded shares rose 22 cents to $29.76 Thursday.

Mattel declined 34 cents, or 2.4 percent, to $13.84 and Hasbro fell 38 cents, or 0.4 percent, to $88.15 as Toys R Us prepares to shut down its U.S. operations. CEO David Brandon told employees Wednesday the chain plans to liquidate all of its U.S. stores, according to an audio recording of the meeting obtained by The Associated Press. Hasbro and Mattel each get about 10 percent of their sales from Toys R Us, which has 740 stores and 30,000 employees in the U.S.

The 70-year-old company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in late October and said in late January that it would close 182 stores. Mattel has plunged 22 percent since then and Hasbro has fallen 7 percent.

IBM and chipmaker Broadcom helped technology companies move higher. Thanks to their big gains in the last 15 months, technology companies now comprise one-fourth of the total value of the S&P 500. It's been almost 20 years since any sector dominated the index that way: according to S&P Global, technology made up one-third of the index in early 2000, at the height of the dot-com boom.

Bell, of CFRA Research, said more deals are likely in the chip industry as both Broadcom and Intel look to buy other companies following the government's decision to block Broadcom's effort to buy Qualcomm.

Discount retailer Dollar General climbed $4.24, or 4.8 percent, to $93.44 after it said shoppers spent more money per trip during the fourth quarter. The company also gave a strong forecast for the year. Competitor Dollar Tree gained $1.35, or 1.5 percent, to $94.16.

Oil and gas pipeline partnerships including Williams Cos. dropped after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission announced changes to tax rules.

Benchmark U.S. crude added 23 cents to $61.19 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, rose 23 cents to $65.12 per barrel in London.

Wholesale gasoline remained at $1.92 a gallon. Heating oil rose 1 cent to $1.89 a gallon. Natural gas fell 5 cents to $2.68 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold fell $7.80 to $1,317.80 an ounce. Silver fell 12 cents to $16.42 an ounce. Copper lost 3 cents to $3.13 a pound.

Bond prices edged lower. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.83 percent from 2.82 percent.

The dollar dipped to 106.24 yen from 106.25 yen. The euro fell to $1.2303 from $1.2375.

The DAX in Germany rose 0.9 percent and France's CAC 40 gained 0.6 percent. The British FTSE 100 added 0.2 percent. Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 edged 0.1 percent higher while South Korea's Kospi rose 0.3 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.3 percent.

(BE)