NEW YORK (AP) -- Global stock markets pirouetted again on Wednesday as investors chased after mixed signals on global trade tensions, and the S&P 500 erased an early-morning jump to drop to its lowest closing level in nearly a month.
One of the day's few market certainties was oil's continued rise, and benchmark U.S. crude hit its highest price since 2014. That helped lift energy stocks, but other areas of the market zigged, zagged and zigged again as the day progressed.
Early on, Asian stocks slumped on concerns about the sometimes-heated talk on trade that has been ongoing between the United States and its partners. European stocks later flipped from losses to gains on hopes that a move by the Trump administration indicated a less combative stance with China. U.S. stocks opened higher, but the gains evaporated after a White House adviser said the move wasn't necessarily a signal of a softer stance.
By the end of the day, the S&P 500 fell 23.43 points, or 0.9 percent, to 2,699.63 after earlier being up as much as 0.8 percent.
The Dow Jones industrial average lost 165.52, or 0.7 percent, to 24,117.59, the Nasdaq composite gave up 116.54, or 1.5 percent, to 7,445.08 and the Russell 2000 index of small-cap stocks fell 28.07, or 1.7 percent, to 1,640.45.
Stocks have swung in recent weeks, even by the hour, on worries about global trade.
Investors were feeling less nervous about it in the morning after the Trump administration indicated it's shifting away from a plan to impose limits on Chinese investment in U.S. technology companies and high-tech exports to China. Instead, the administration is calling on Congress to enhance an existing review process.
Markets took it as a sign of a less antagonistic stance, but the gains disappeared in the afternoon after Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, said in an interview with Fox Business that it should not necessarily be viewed as a softer stance.
"Trade is the hot topic du jour, and it's having an impact on the market" said Barry Bannister, head of institutional equity strategy at Stifel.
It's only adding to pressures that have been mounting on the market. The Federal Reserve is raising interest rates, but more importantly to Bannister, interest rates after accounting for the effects of inflation are set to cross key thresholds. That is putting pressure on stock prices, and he says this bull market that began in 2009 may end by the first quarter of 2020.
Chinese stocks have already fallen into a bear market. The Shanghai Composite index fell 1.1 percent on Wednesday, and it's down more than 20 percent from a late January high.
Other Asian markets also fell Wednesday. Japan's Nikkei 225 lost 0.3 percent, and South Korea's Kospi sank 0.4 percent.
European stocks were higher. France's CAC 40 gained 0.9 percent, Germany's DAX rose 0.3 percent and the FTSE 100 in London added 1.1 percent.
In the U.S. market, Conagra Brands had the biggest loss among stocks in the S&P 500 after it agreed to buy Pinnacle Foods, the company behind Duncan Hines and Hungry-Man, in a deal that would create a frozen-food giant. Conagra dropped $2.78, or 7.3 percent, to $35.45.
The strongest area of the market was the energy sector. Crude jumped after a report showed that U.S. oil inventories dropped more sharply last week. It had already been rising on reports that the Trump administration is pushing other countries to stop importing oil from Iran.
Crude's rise helped drive energy stocks in the S&P 500 up 1.3 percent, more than double the gain for any of the other 10 sectors that make up the index.
Concho Resources, a company that looks for oil and gas in New Mexico and west Texas, jumped $6.09, or 4.6 percent, to $137.78 for the biggest gain in the S&P 500.
Benchmark U.S. crude rose $2.23 to settle at $72.76 per barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, rose $1.31 to $77.62 a barrel.
Natural gas rose 6 cents to $2.30 per 1,000 cubic feet, heating oil gained 5 cents to $2.17 per gallon and wholesale gasoline added 6 cents to $2.13 per gallon.
Gold fell $3.80 to $1,256.10 per ounce, silver lost 10 cents to $16.15 per ounce and copper slipped a penny to $3.01 per pound.
The dollar edged up to 110.20 Japanese yen from 110.13 yen late Tuesday. The euro fell to $1.1557 from $1.1650, and the British pound dropped to $1.3128 from $1.3232.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury dropped to 2.82 percent from 2.88 percent late Tuesday. The two-year yield fell to 2.48 percent from 2.53 percent, and the 30-year sank to 2.96 percent from 3.02 percent.