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Plunging oil prices take their toll on stocks

Oil prices and energy companies plunged on Thursday, but other stocks stuck fast as investors waited for more signs about the state of the economy.

Household goods makers and health care companies rose following some solid company earnings reports. Most other parts of the market made little gains, but energy companies took sharp losses as the price of crude oil fell almost 5% - its biggest one-day loss in about two months.

"We may be seeing signs that global production is strong, and whenever markets see a decline in oil prices they worry it's actually an indication of weak demand," said Kate Warne, an investment strategist for Edward Jones.

She said oil prices have slipped recently because of an accumulation of concerns about rising energy production in the US and slower economic growth in both the US and China.

Health care stocks did not react much to the narrow passage in the House of Representatives of a bill intended to roll back much of former President Barack Obama's healthcare law. The bill now heads to the Senate, where its fate is less certain.

Broader market measures did move higher after the bill was passed, however, as investors hoped the Republican-controlled Congress may be in a better position to compromise on business-friendly polices such as tax cuts.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 1.39 points, or 0.1%, to 2,389.52. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 6.43 points to 20,951.47. The Nasdaq composite added 2.79 points to 6,075.34. The Russell 2000 index of small-company stocks dipped 2.08 points, or 0.1%, to 1,388.85. On the New York Stock Exchange, two out of every three stocks fell.

US benchmark crude futures shed another 2.30 dollars, or 4.8%, to 45.52 dollars a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the standard for international oils, fell 2.41 dollars, or 4.7%, to 48.38 dollars a barrel in London.

Oil has fallen to its lowest price since November as investors wonder if the OPEC cartel will extend an agreement to cut production and support prices. OPEC nations will discuss that deal later this month.

Exxon Mobil skidded 1.06 dollars, or 1.3%, to 81.64 dollars and EOG Resources lost 3.16 dollars, or 3.4%, to 88.60 dollars. Chesapeake Energy tumbled 41 cents, or 7.4%, to 5.13 dollars.

The dollar turned lower and slipped to 112.42 yen from 112.64 yen. The euro rose to 1.0981 dollars from 1.0906 dollars.

The CAC 40 in France rose 1.3% following a debate between French presidential candidates Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. That helped send the euro higher Thursday.

Germany's DAX rose 1% and the FTSE 100 index in Britain added 0.2%.

The South Korean Kospi added 1% and Hong Kong's Hang Seng edged 0.1% lower. Japan's market remained closed for a holiday.

AP

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