Stocks flat after early rally loses steam

Financial Markets Wall Street
FILE - This Monday, Aug. 24, 2015, file photo, shows the New York Stock Exchange. U.S. stocks opened slightly lower early Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, as retail companies slipped. Energy stocks climbed early as the price of crude oil recovered. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks oscillated between modest gains and losses on Thursday as investors await Friday’s jobs report, which could offer insight about the U.S. economy and help determine whether the Federal Reserve raises interest rates again next month.

Many believe the likelihood of another rate increase in March has faded because of recent signs of weakness in the global economy. That has sent the dollar lower against other currencies, a welcome change for U.S. exporters whose overseas sales have been hurt by the appreciation of the dollar over the last year and a half.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average rose 10 points, or 0.1 percent, to 16,344 as of 2:00 p.m. Eastern. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index edged down four points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,909 and the Nasdaq composite was down 16 points, or 0.4 percent, at 4,505.

RATE RETHINK: Investors are getting ready for Friday’s payroll numbers. Economists surveyed by FactSet forecast that U.S. employers created 200,000 jobs in January and the unemployment rate held steady at 5 percent.

Over the past couple of weeks, investors have scaled back expectations that the Fed will continue raising interest rates amid signs that the global slowdown in growth is beginning to hurt the U.S. economy.

On Wednesday, the private ISM survey found that the U.S. service sector grew in January at the slowest rate in nearly two years. Fed fund futures, a security that allows investors to bet on which way the Fed will move interest rates, are indicating that the next best chance the Fed will raise rates is not until early 2017.

“The market is starting to price in a small chance of recession, not some realistic chance, but enough of a chance to give investors pause and reposition,” said Khoa Le, who co-heads a derivatives trading desk at Credit Suisse.

CURRENCIES: Diminished expectations of a March Fed rate hike have hit the dollar. The euro was up 0.8 percent at a three-month high of $1.12 while the dollar fell 1.1 percent to 116.78 yen.

Le said the large move in the dollar in recent days is partially related to a great unwinding of positions by both large investors and companies who might hold large amounts of currency overseas.

Many investors were “buying into this thesis of a strong dollar,” Le said. “Now that the Fed is less likely to raise rates, we are seeing clients reposition.”

OFF CAMERA: Mobile video camera maker GoPro plunged 76 cents, or 7 percent, to $9.94 after the company reported a wider-than-expected fourth quarter loss. GoPro shares are down 45 percent in 2016.

RETIREMENT PARTY: CBS and Viacom shares were up 1 percent each after Viacom announced that its 92-year-old majority shareholder, Sumner Redstone, was stepping down as CEO to be replaced by CBS CEO Les Moonves.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude edged down 60 cents to $31.68 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract jumped 8 percent on Wednesday in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oil prices, fell 69 cents to $34.20 a barrel in London.

BONDS: U.S. government bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 1.86 percent from 1.89 percent.

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