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U.S. stocks wobble again as energy companies fall


    U.S. stock indexes were wavering between tiny gains and losses in early trading. Losses among technology and consumer-focused companies offset gains by financial and health care stocks.

NEW YORK >> Technology and energy companies are skidding while banks and insurance companies recover some of their recent losses, leaving U.S. stock indexes little changed overall. Credit monitoring company Equifax is plunging after it disclosed a data breach that affects 143 million Americans. Grocery stores and household goods companies fell as Kroger said stiff competition forced it to cut prices.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor’s 500 index lost 2 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,462 as of 3:15 p.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 19 points, or 0.1 percent, to 21,804. The Nasdaq composite fell 35 points, or 0.6 percent, to 6,362. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks rose 1 point, or 0.1 percent, to 1,400. Stocks are on track to finish the week with a loss. More stocks fell than rose on the New York Stock Exchange.

DATA DISASTER: Equifax slumped in heavy trading after the credit monitoring company said a data breach exposed Social Security numbers and other information from 143 million Americans. It said the breach occurred between mid-May and July. Equifax shares tumbled $19.40, or 13.6 percent, to $123.32. Competitor TransUnion fell $1.87, or 3.8 percent, to $47.52 and Experian fell 0.7 percent in London.

Data security companies rallied as investors expected more demand for their services. Symantec leaped $1.01, or 3.3 percent, to $31.61 and FireEye rose 28 cents, or 1.8 percent, to $16.05.

EYE ON THE STORM: Hurricane Irma left at least 21 people dead and thousands homeless on a devastated string of Caribbean islands and was spinning toward Florida for what could be a catastrophic blow this weekend.

While insurance companies made a small recovery, investors expect steep losses from Irma as well as Hurricane Harvey. Reinsurance companies, which sell policies that cover catastrophic losses like those caused by storms and floods, are down about 10 percent since early August.

Today Chubb rose $6.07, or 4.5 percent, to $140.95 and XL Group regained $2.23, or 6.1 percent, to $38.71.

THE QUOTE: Experts think the storms will slow down U.S. economic growth in the third quarter. While that’s likely to be temporary, David Chalupnik, head of equities at Nuveen Asset Management, said the effect on the stock market could last for a while because it will be hard for investors to tell how much of any company’s problems are caused by the weather.

“The next couple of months are going to be pretty cloudy,” he said. He said insurance companies, cruise lines, and oil refiners based in the Gulf Coast or Southeast could take losses and bad debt at credit card companies will increase, and since the storm will push the Federal Reserve to keep interest rates lower for a bit longer, that will hurt banks by keeping interest rates low on loans.

GROCERY WOES: Grocery store chain Kroger said intense competition with Target and Wal-Mart forced it to cut prices in the second quarter, which hurt its profits. Making matters worse, after the quarter ended completed its purchase of Whole Foods and immediately cut prices on many items. Kroger didn’t change its annual forecast, but that projection doesn’t account for the hurricanes, which may hurt its sales.

Kroger dropped $1.73, or 7.6 percent, to $21.04. Supervalu fell $1.35, or 6.4 percent, to $19.74. Wal-Mart and Target, which also said it’s cutting prices, took smaller losses.

TECH SLUMP: Information technology company Science Applications International came up short of Wall Street estimates in the second quarter and SAIC shares slid $12.93, or 17.3 percent, to $61.73. Elsewhere, Apple shed $2.32, or 1.4 percent, to $158.94. Chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices sank 41 cents, or 3.3 percent, to $12.22 and Qualcomm fell 81 cents, or 1.6 percent, to $49.57.

BONDS: Bond prices dipped. The yield on the 10-year Treasury rose to 2.06 percent from 2.05 percent.

ENERGY: Energy companies fell as benchmark U.S. crude skidded $1.61, or 3.3 percent, to $47.48 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, lost 71 cents, or 1.3 percent, to $53.78 a barrel in London.

Wholesale gasoline declined 1 cent to $1.65 a gallon. Heating oil fell 2 cents to $1.77 a gallon. Natural gas sank 9 cents, or 3.1 percent, to $2.89 per 1,000 cubic feet.

METALS: Gold rose 90 cents to $1,351.20 an ounce. Silver added 1 cent to $18.12 an ounce. Copper retreated 10 cents, or 3.2 percent, to $3.04 a pound.

CURRENCIES: The dollar fell to 107.79 yen from 108.65 yen on Thursday. The euro strengthened to $1.2028 from $1.2003.

MARKETS OVERSEAS: The German DAX picked up 0.1 percent and the FTSE 100 index in Britain lost 0.3 percent. In France, the CAC 40 declined less than 0.1 percent. Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 slid 0.6 percent after the country’s economic growth rate was reduced. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng added 0.5 percent and the Kospi in South Korea fell 0.1 percent.

Mexico’s Bolsa stock index fell 0.7 percent after a powerful earthquake hit near the southern coast. At least 35 people were reported killed.

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