Fears on wages, energy stocks take toll

NEW YORK - U.S. stocks gave up a promising start and finished mostly lower Wednesday as investors continued to worry about lagging wages and energy companies dropped with the price of oil.

Stocks climbed early on as a solid quarter from Morgan Stanley revived optimism about banks, and strong results from auto and industrial parts distributor Genuine Parts sent carmakers and suppliers higher.

The gains began to fade around noon as oil prices and energy companies sagged. The losses accelerated after the midafternoon release of the Federal Reserve's "Beige Book" survey of economic conditions.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index finished down 4.02 points, or 0.2 percent, at 2,338.17. It rose as much as 10 points, or 0.4 percent, earlier. The Dow lost 118.79 points, or 0.6 percent, to 20,404.49. Half of the blue-chip index's losses came from IBM, which reported weaker-than-expected sales in the first quarter.

The Nasdaq composite rose 13.56 points, or 0.2 percent, to 5,863.03 as health-care companies climbed. And there were signs of optimism about the economy, as well. The Russell 2000 index, which is made up of smaller companies that tend to be more U.S.-focused, added 5.24 points, or 0.4 percent, to 1,367.13 after a late gain a day ago.

Oil prices slumped after the Energy Information Administration said U.S. crude inventories didn't shrink as much as investors hoped they would last week, and the EIA says the stockpiles are larger than normal for this time of year. Benchmark U.S. crude lost $1.97, or 3.8 percent, to $50.44 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell $1.96, or 3.6 percent, to $52.93 per barrel in London.

All 34 energy companies on the S&P 500 finished lower. Chevron $1.45, or 1.4 percent, to $104.23 and Marathon Oil sank 68 cents, or 4.3 percent, to $15.06.

Bond prices fell, reversing most of their gains from a day earlier. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.21 percent from 2.17 percent. That hurt high-dividend payers including utilities and household goods companies.

In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline fell 5 cents, or 3 percent, to $1.66 a gallon. Heating oil lost 4 cents, or 2.5 percent, to $1.58 a gallon. Natural gas rose 4 cents to $3.19 per 1,000 cubic feet.

The price of gold, which has climbed steadily in recent weeks, fell $10.70 to $1,283.40 an ounce. Silver lost 11 cents to $18.16 an ounce. Copper added 1 cent to $2.53 a pound.

The dollar rose to 108.70 yen from 108.42 yen. The euro edged down to $1.0721 from $1.0730.

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