US stocks finish little change after weak employment report

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks ended pretty much where they started Thursday after spending the day cycling up and down. Investors bought safe picks like phone companies and food makers after a surprisingly weak report on the job market. Stocks started the day higher. Materials companies climbed...

              Specialist Philip Finale, background center, works with traders at the post that handles Monsanto on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Thursday, May 12, 2016. Monsanto jumped 9 percent on reports that Bayer is in talks to buy it. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks ended pretty much where they started Thursday after spending the day cycling up and down. Investors bought safe picks like phone companies and food makers after a surprisingly weak report on the job market.

Stocks started the day higher. Materials companies climbed after Monsanto, an agricultural giant, soared on reports it might be acquired. The market turned lower in late morning trading as investors worried about the Labor Department's report, which showed an unexpected jump in the number of people seeking unemployment benefits. Oil waverd between gains and losses, but finished higher for the sixth time in seven days.

"The market is following oil," said John Cannally, chief economic strategist for LPL Financial. Cannally thinks investors don't have a lot of confidence in the global economy right now, and will be watching subsequent reports out of China to see if there are more signs that the world's second-largest economy is continuing to slow down.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 9.38 points, less than 0.1 percent, to 17,720.50. The Standard & Poor's 500 index dipped 0.35 points to 2,064.11. The Nasdaq composite index fell 23.35 points, or 0.5 percent, to 4,737.33.

The Labor Department said applications for unemployment benefits rose to the highest level since February 2015. That comes after a disappointing jobs report for April. Applications rose by 20,000 to 294,000. Despite the increase, they have remained below 300,000 for more than a year.

The biggest gains went to phone companies, chemicals makers and consumer stocks. AT&T increased 37 cents to $39.55. Among consumer companies, Kraft Heinz rose $1.14, or 1.3 percent, to $86.34 and Coca-Cola added 37 cents to $45.83.

Monsanto led materials companies higher after Bloomberg News reported that German chemical and pharmaceutical company Bayer might make an offer for it. That follows a wave of consolidation in the chemicals industry: DuPont and Dow Chemical agreed to combine last year, and ChemChina agreed to buy Syngenta of Switzerland in March. Monsanto jumped $7.58, or 8.4 percent, to $97.92.

Benchmark U.S. oil, which is at its highest price since early November, gained 47 cents, or 1 percent, to $46.70 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the benchmark for international oil prices, rose 48 cents, or 1 percent, to $48.08 a barrel in London.

The International Energy Agency said it thinks the global oil surplus will shrink by the year's end, bringing supply and demand much closer to balance. The price of oil dropped from around $100 a barrel in mid-2014 to as low as $26 a barrel in February and has rallied since then.

Department store Kohl's said its sales dropped and its income was weighed down by high costs. The company's results suffered as it discounted some items to clear out inventory. The stock fell $3.55, or 9.2 percent, to $35.15.

Retailers have been struggling for months. Macy's slashed its profit forecast Wednesday following its quarterly report, and Gap posted worse-than-expected April sales on Monday.

Apple fell to its lowest price in almost two years. Its stock slid $2.17, or 2.3 percent, to $90.34.

Biotech drug companies slumped on continued scrutiny of their pricing policies. Valeant Pharmaceuticals International fell on reports the company has not reduced the price of some of its medications, something it said it would do earlier this year. The stock gave up $1.42, or 5.4 percent, to $24.93. Botox maker Allergan fell $6.69, or 3 percent, to $216.02 and multiple sclerosis treatment maker Biogen declined $4.54, or 1.7 percent, to $262.71. UnitedHealth, the largest U.S. health insurer, gave up 95 cents to $129.74 and Aetna lost $3.66, or 3.3 percent, to $108.60.

Data security company Infoblox surged $3.73, or 24.4 percent, to $19.04 after Bloomberg reported that a private equity firm offered to buy it.

Burger chain Jack in the Box reported strong results, including better sales at its Qdoba Mexican restaurants. Its stock jumped 9.88, or 15.2 percent, to $75.02.

Payment card company CPI Card Group reported disappointing results as shipments of chip-enabled cards were lower than expected. The company said the market is struggling in the U.S. and cut its guidance because credit card companies aren't buying and issuing as many of the cards as expected.

Its stock skidded $3.66, or 47.7 percent, to $4.01. The company's IPO priced at $10 per share in October.

In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline was little changed at $1.58 a gallon. Heating oil was little changed at $1.39 a gallon. Natural gas lost 2 cents to $2.16 per 1,000 cubic feet.

The price of gold dipped $4.30 to $1,271.20 an ounce. Silver lost 22 cents, or 1.2 percent, to $17.10 an ounce. Copper fell 3 cents, or 1.4 percent, to $2.07 a pound.

Germany's DAX fell 1.1 percent and the FTSE 100 in Britain was down 0.4 percent. France's CAC 40 lost 0.2 percent. Japan's Nikkei 225 stock index rose 0.4 percent and the Hang Seng index of Hong Kong dropped 0.7 percent. South Korea's Kospi lost 0.1 percent.

Bond prices fell and the yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note rose to 1.75 percent from 1.73 percent. The dollar edged up to 109.14 yen from 108.49 yen. The euro slipped to $1.1373 from $1.1425.


AP Markets Writer Marley Jay can be reached at His work can be found at