NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are holding steady Thursday as health care stocks skid but the continuing rebound in oil prices gives energy companies a lift. Investors have resisted making big moves in recent days. Retail giant Wal-Mart is rising after it reported strong second-quarter results and raised its annual estimates.
KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average gave up 24 points, or 0.1 percent, to 18,550 as of 12:45 p.m. Eastern time. The Standard & Poor's 500 was unchanged at 2,182. The Nasdaq composite added 1 point to 5,229. Stocks have bobbed up and down for more than a week and they finished a bit higher Wednesday after the Federal Reserve released minutes from its late July meeting. Stocks made small gains as investors felt the Fed is in no hurry to raise interest rates again.
FEELING ILL: Health care stocks lagged the market. Life science company Agilent Technologies gave up $1.83, or 3.8 percent, to $46.61 after investors were displeased with its cautious projections for the current quarter. Portola Pharmaceuticals sank $2.26, or 9.5 percent, to $21.43 after regulators did not approve its drug AndexXa, which is designed to reduce severe bleeding during surgery by counteracting blood thinners.
ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude gained $1.29, or 2.8 percent, to $48.08 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, rose 91 cents, or 1.8 percent, to $50.76 a barrel in London. That gave energy companies a lift, and Marathon Oil rose 82 cents, or 5.2 percent, to $16.52 while Devon Energy gained $1.30, or 3 percent, to $44.61.
Oil prices have rallied over the last two weeks, but they have essentially remained between $40 and $50 a barrel for the last four months. In February oil traded as low as $26.21 a barrel and the relative stability in oil prices has boosted energy company stocks.
RISING RETAILER: Wal-Mart Stores climbed $1.06, or 1.5 percent, to $74. The world's largest retailer raised its annual estimates after reporting strong results for the second quarter. The company is revamping stores and has won back some customers. Wal-Mart, which has lost sales to sites like Amazon as people make more purchases online, is also buying online retailer Jet.com for $3 billion as it fights for more online shoppers.
CISCO CUTS: Internet gear maker Cisco Systems reported unimpressive quarterly results and said it will lay off 5,500 employees, or about 7 percent of its staff. The company had already cut about 10,000 jobs over the last few years and it joins companies like Microsoft, Intel and HP in eliminating jobs and overhauling its product lines. Its stock lost 54 cents, or 1.7 percent, to $30.19.
PRIVATE PRISONS PLUNGE: Prison operating companies nosedived after the Justice Department moved to phase out its relationships with the companies. Federal prison officials were instructed to cut back on their reliance on those prisons after a recent audit found that privately-run prisons have more safety and security problems than prisons run by the government. Around 12 percent of federal inmates, or 22,000 people, were in private prisons at the end of last year. Corrections Corp. stock plunged $13.22, or 48.6 percent, to $14 and Geo Group tumbled $13.80, or 42.7 percent, to $18.49.
WILD RIDE: Harley-Davidson stock skidded after the U.S. government sued the motorcycle maker, saying it made illegal devices that could cause its vehicles to emit higher amounts of some types of air pollutants. The shares dropped as much as 8 percent earlier in the day, but made up most of those losses after the Justice Department said Harley-Davidson agreed to settle the case by buying back and destroying the devices. It will also pay a $12 million penalty and spend $3 million on a project that will help mitigate air pollution. The stock lost 88 cents, or 1.6 percent, to $53.60.
SUNNY DAY: SunEdison Semiconductor, which makes silicon wafers for the semiconductor industry, agreed to be bought by GlobalWafers of Taiwan. The deal values SunEdison Semiconductor at $12 per share, or about $508 million. Its stock soared $3.20, or 38.6 percent, to $11.48.
JOBS: The federal government said fewer people filed for unemployment benefits last week. A total of 262,000 new applications were filed. Applications for jobless benefits have remained below 300,000 per week for almost a year and a half, the longest streak since 1970. Applications are a proxy for layoffs, which have remained low as hiring has grown. The number of people receiving benefits is around 2.18 million, down 4 percent over the last year.
BONDS, CURRENCY: Bond prices inched higher and the yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 1.54 percent from 1.55 percent. The dollar fell to 100.06 yen from 100.19 yen. The euro rose to $1.1334 from $1.1290.
OVERSEAS: Germany's DAX added 0.6 percent and the French CAC 40 index rose 0.4 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 gained 0.1 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 1 percent and Tokyo's Nikkei 225 slid 1.5 percent. The Kospi in South Korea added 0.9 percent.