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Stocks tread water as energy companies rise and banks fall

US stocks hardly moved as investors were slow to dip a toe back into the market, although energy companies climbed with the price of oil and natural gas.

Banks and retailers took losses.

Stock indexes flickered between tiny gains and losses throughout the day before they mounted a small rally over the last half hour of trading.

Energy companies rose the most, and companies that make drinks, packaged foods, and other household items also rose. Retailers and department stores slumped after Urban Outfitters warned of weak first-quarter sales and Ralph Lauren said it would close stores and cut jobs.

That came a day after car makers reported weak sales for March, which raised concerns about sales of other goods.

Eric Wiegand, senior portfolio manager at US Bank's Private Client Reserve, said consumers are very confident in the economy according to surveys, but considering high levels of employment and hiring, they are not spending that much.

"We would like to see that confidence reflected in their actual consumption and that's been somewhat mixed," he said.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index picked up 1.32 points, or almost 0.1%, to 2,360.16. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 39.03 points, or 0.2%, to 20,689.24. The Nasdaq composite added 3.93 points, or 0.1%, to 5,898.61.

Slightly more stocks fell than rose on the New York Stock Exchange, and the Russell 2000 index, which contains smaller-company stocks, lost 1.49 points, or 0.1%, to 1,368.18.

This week investors will pore over reports on the US economy, including the monthly jobs report on Friday. Trade agreements will be in focus as Donald Trump and Chinese president Xi Jinping meet on Thursday and Friday.

Ralph Lauren dropped 3.63 dollars, or 4.5%, to 77.73 after it said it will close stores and cut jobs in an effort to save money. The company will close its Fifth Avenue store in Manhattan less than three years after it opened.

Urban Outfitters lost 7 cents, or 3.1%, to 22.49 after it said sales at older stores have fallen over the last two months.

Other retailers also lost ground. Department store Nordstrom fell 2.56, or 5.5%, to 43.92 and L Brands, the owner of Victoria's Secret, shed 2.03, or 4.4%, to 43.77. But their online nemesis Amazon gained 15.32, or 1.7%, to 906.83. Amazon stock is up 21% this year.

Handbag and accessories maker Kate Spade slumped after Reuters said the company will take more time to negotiate a possible sale.

The report cited anonymous sources and said that if Kate Spade is sold to a buyer like Michael Kors or Coach, it will likely be for less than the company's recent valuation of 2.9 billion dollars. Kate Spade sank 3.34, or 14.6%, to 19.46.

Benchmark US crude rose 79 cents, or 1.6%, to 51.03 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, added 1.05, or 2%, to 54.17 a barrel in London. Anadarko Petroleum added 92 cents, or 1.5%, to 62.71.

The price of natural gas jumped 4.6% to 3.27 per 1,000 cubic feet, and Southwestern Energy climbed 70 cents, or 8.9%, to 8.59 while Range Resources gained 1.19, or 4.2%, to 29.76. Wholesale gasoline rose 3 cents to 1.72 a gallon and heating oil added 3 cents to 1.59 a gallon.

Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.36% from 2.33%.

Banks took losses for the second day in a row following a sharp drop in bond yields on Monday. Lower bond yields force interest rates on loans lower, which cuts into banks' profits.

Capital One Financial slid 54 cents to 85.26 and Discover Financial Services lost 90 cents, or 1.3%, to 67.05.

The Commerce Department said US factory orders kept growing in February thanks to greater demand for commercial aircraft. Boeing said it will sell three billion dollars in aircraft to an Iranian airline, and its stock gained 2.05, or 1.2%, to 178.70.

Manufacturers have been recovering recently from a rough patch that was caused by weak economies overseas and the strong dollar, which made US goods more expensive. A measurement of business investment spending decreased for the first time since September.

Staples climbed after the Wall Street Journal reported that the office supply company is talking to private equity firms about a potential sale. Staples tried to buy competitor Office Depot for 6.3 billion dollars, but gave up on that effort last May after regulators opposed it and a federal judge said it would reduce competition.

Staples jumped 85 cents, or 9.8%, to 9.51.

Gold rose 4.40 to 1,258.40 dollars an ounce. Silver added 11 cents to 18.32 an ounce. Copper rose 1 cent to 2.61 per pound.

The dollar slipped to 110.65 yen from 110.96 yen. The euro edged up to 1.0670 from 1.0665.

Britain's FTSE 100 gained 0.5% and the CAC 40 in France rose 0.3%. In Germany, the DAX added 0.2%. The Japanese Nikkei 225 fell 0.9% as the yen gained against the US dollar. The South Korean Kospi slipped 0.3 percent. Markets in Hong Kong were closed for public holidays.

AP

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