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US stocks waver as earnings and central banks dominate


Trader Kevin Lodewick works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (Richard Drew/AP)

Trader Kevin Lodewick works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (Richard Drew/AP)

Trader Kevin Lodewick works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (Richard Drew/AP)

US stock indexes essentially hit the snooze bar on Thursday as investors were relieved the European Central Bank did not announce any changes to its stimulus policies.

Europe's central bank maintained its current policies and ECB president Mario Draghi said the bank has not even set a date for considering changes.

Investors were startled a month ago when he spoke about scaling back the stimulus programme.

On an up-and-down day of trading, second-quarter results moved other stocks: health care companies including Abbott Laboratories climbed and paint, trucking and railway companies fell.

Sears announced an online appliance sales pact with Amazon.com, and appliance makers and home improvement stores dropped.

But overall the market hardly budged. While stocks have been setting record highs for most of 2017, including Wednesday, the market is having its quietest year in decades.

"There's the belief that the Fed and the ECB are backstopping markets and if something bad were to happen, they would increase accommodation," said Brent Schutte, chief investment strategist at Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management.

"If you throw a bunch of money at a problem, typically risk moves lower and people feel more confidence."

The Standard & Poor's 500 index slipped at the finish and lost 0.38 points to 2,473.45.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 28.97 points, or 0.1%, to 21,611.78.

The Nasdaq composite rose 4.96 points, or 0.1%, to a record high of 6,390.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies gained 0.58 points to 1,442.35, also a record.

The S&P 500 has only had four moves of 1% or greater this year. In a typical year that happens more than 50 times.

Abbott Laboratories, which makes infant formula, drugs and medical devices, gained 1.42 dollars, or 2.9%, to 50.85 dollars after reporting results that were better than expected.

Health care products giant Johnson & Johnson rose 1.36 dollars, or 1%, to 136.57 dollars and drugmaker AbbVie, which split from Abbott in 2013, added 1.24 dollars, or 1.7%, to 74.01 dollars.

Paint and coatings maker PPG Industries fell after it reported weaker-than-expected sales. PPG said higher raw materials costs hurt its results, and so did unfavourable foreign currency exchange rates. Its shares gave up 6.88 dollars, or 6.1%, to 106.72 dollars.

Competitor Sherwin-Williams had a weak second quarter. It also pointed to rising costs as well as lower exterior paint sales. The stock lost 8.94 dollars, or 2.5%, to 350.78 dollars.

Sears said it will begin selling Kenmore appliances on Amazon.com, including smart appliances that can be synced with Amazon's voice assistant Alexa.

The owner of the Sears and Kmart chains has closed large numbers of stores in recent years and said in March that it might not be able to stay in business. Its stock jumped 92 cents, or 10.6%, to 9.60 dollars. Even with Thursday's climb, Sears stock is down 36% over the last year.

Home Depot plunged 6.27 dollars, or 4.1%, to 147.03 dollars as analysts wondered if its appliance sales will be affected.

That was Home Depot's biggest loss in a year and a half, and it wiped 43 points off the Dow average. Lowe's fell 4.27 dollars, or 5.6%, to 72.56 dollars and appliance maker Whirlpool dropped 8.60 dollars, or 4.3%, to 189.74 dollars.

Amazon edged up 1.83 dollars to 1,028.70 dollars.

The European Central Bank did not make any big moves, and ECB president Mario Draghi stressed that it has not set a date for considering any changes to its stimulus policies.

Last month Mr Draghi discussed gradual reductions in stimulus as Europe's economy gets stronger, and investors pushed the euro higher and bought long-term bonds.

That kind of response could make the ECB's current stimulus less effective, so it wants to moderate market reactions. European government bond yields dropped Thursday.

Utility company Avista surged after it accepted an offer from Hydro One, the largest power transmitter and distributor in Ontario. It will buy Avista for 5.3 billion dollars, or 53 dollars a share, and Avista stock climbed 8.95 dollars, or 20.7%, to 52.28 dollars.