NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are heading slightly lower Thursday afternoon, with chemicals and agricultural companies taking the largest losses. The prices of gold and oil are rising. Trading has been quiet on the final day of a stormy first quarter.
KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average fell eight points, or less than 0.1 percent, to 17,708 as of 2:18 p.m. Eastern time. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index shed two points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,061. The Nasdaq composite index rose three points to 4,872.
ON THE FARM: Chemicals and agricultural companies slumped following disappointing quarterly results and a shaky outlook from irrigation company Lindsay. Agricultural giant Monsanto lost $3.22, or 3.5 percent, to $87.87. Fertilizer maker CF Industries gave up 96 cents, or 3.3 percent, and competitor Mosaic fell 92 cents, or 3.3 percent, to $2.20. Equipment maker Deere shed $2.46, or 3.1 percent, to $77.66.
GOLD SHINES: The price of gold rose $7.30, or 0.6 percent, to $1,234.20 an ounce. Gold is trading at its highest price in more than a year, and it’s surged almost 17 percent in 2016. That’s the biggest gain in any quarter since 1986. Demand for gold has risen because of concerns about the health of the global economy, central bank policies, and more recently, because the U.S. dollar has started to weaken after years of gains.
The price of silver rose 25 cents, or 1.7 percent, to $15.46 an ounce. Copper lost 1 cent to $2.18 a pound.
FIRST QUARTER: Stocks tumbled in January and early February on concerns that weak growth in several major global economies would pull the U.S. economy into recession. In early February, the Dow average and the S&P 500 index were down more than 10 percent from the start of the year. Stocks roared back in March as investors were encourage by positive economic news in the U.S. and central bank moves around the world to stimulate economic growth.
The Dow is on track to finish the first three months of the year up 1.6 percent, while the S&P 500 is headed for a 0.9-percent gain.
THE QUOTE: At the start of this year, investors seemed eager to turn the page on 2015. But the market plunged as investors feared for the health of the global economy. Tobias Levkovich, chief U.S. Equity Strategist for Citi Investment Research, said investors bought traditionally defensive stocks as the market fell, including health care companies and companies that make consumer goods. Then stocks rallied, and many of those companies suffered while energy companies and others recovered.
“If you’re an institutional investor you probably got way too defensive in January, you suffered on the way down and you’ve suffered on the way up,” he said. “The market may have recovered, but a lot of people haven’t, in their portfolios.”
ANOTHER DEAL: IBM rose $3.25, or 2.2 percent, to $151.66 after the company said it will expand its business services division by buying Bluewolf Group, which provides cloud consulting and implementation services. IBM didn’t disclose terms.
A month ago IBM agreed to buy Truven Health Analytics in a $2.6 billion deal intended to strengthen the health care capabilities of its Watson cognitive computing system. In October it agreed to buy the data, technology and websites of the Weather Company, which owns the Weather Channel.
JOBS: The federal government said more Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, but the number of applications remains very low, a sign that hiring is solid. About 276,000 people filed for those benefits, up 11,000 from the week before. The government will release March employment data on Friday.
ENDO DOWN AGAIN: Generic drugmaker Endo International fell after the company was sued by federal regulators. The Federal Trade Commission is suing Endo and a group of competitors, saying Endo paid them to hold off on selling lower-cost versions of its pain drug Opana ER and its shingles pain treatment Lidoderm. The FTC said the deals violated antitrust law and hurt consumers.
Endo, which has lost more than half its value in 2016, fell 65 cents, or 2.3 percent, to $27.80.
ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude rose 32 cents to $38.64 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, added 62 cents, or 1.5 percent, to $40.67 a barrel in London. Energy stocks traded slightly higher.
TESLA MOTORING: Electric car maker Tesla rose $8.50, or 3.7 percent, to $235.39. On Thursday the company unveiled its lower-priced Model 3 car. It costs less than half as much as Tesla’s older cars, and is expected to have about twice as much range as other electric cars that are in a similar price category.
TICK TOCK: Watchmaker Movado lost $2.51, or 8.3 percent, to $27.83 after its profit and sales forecasts for 2016 fell short of analyst estimates.
EARNINGS: Companies will start reporting their first-quarter results on April 11. Analysts expect earnings for the companies on the S&P 500 to fall more than 7 percent, according to S&P Capital IQ. The main reason is the energy sector, which is expected to post broad losses because the price of oil has plunged.
Earnings also fell in the last two quarters, but are expected to improve later this year and finish a little higher in 2016. That would be the second straight year of very slow earnings growth.
BONDS, CURRENCIES: Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note dipped to 1.80 percent from 1.83 percent. The dollar inched up to 112.50 from 112.47 yen. The euro rose to $1.1387 from $1.1333.
OVERSEAS: Stocks in Europe retreated after Wednesday’s surge. France’s CAC-40 fell 1.3 percent and Germany’s DAX declined 0.8 percent. In London the FTSE 100 index was off 0.5 percent. Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 fell 0.7 percent and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong retreated 0.1 percent.
AP Markets Writer Marley Jay can be reached at http://twitter.com/MarleyJayAP His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/marley-jay