U.S. stocks drifted between small gains and losses in early trading Thursday as traders sized up the latest batch of corporate earnings and outlooks. Health care stocks were among the biggest decliners after UnitedHealth Group cut its earnings forecast.
KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average rose less than one point to 17,737 as of 10:06 a.m. Eastern Time. The Standard & Poor's 500 index gained one point, or 0.1 percent, to 2,085. The Nasdaq composite added six points, or 0.1 percent, to 5,082. The market is coming off its biggest gain in four weeks.
BAD MEDICINE: UnitedHealth Group fell 4 percent after the nation's largest health insurer cut its 2015 earnings forecast. The company also said it would pull back on the marketing of its exchange business a few weeks after open enrollment for that coverage began nationwide, adding it will decide in the first half of next year to what extent it can continue to serve the public health insurance exchange markets in 2017. The stock slid $4.73 to $112.52.
HOLIDAY JITTERS: Best Buy dropped 6.5 percent after the big electronics retailer reported weak quarterly sales and a cautious outlook for the holiday shopping season. The stock lost $2.03 to $29.30.
TASTY RESULTS: J.M. Smucker jumped 5.2 percent after the food products company's latest quarterly earnings beat Wall Street's expectations. The stock rose $5.92 to $119.30.
ON THE JOB: The Labor Department reported that fewer Americans sought unemployment aid last week, the latest evidence that companies are confident enough in the economy to hold on to their workers. Weekly applications for jobless benefits dropped 5,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 271,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, increased 3,000 to 270,750.
OVERSEAS: In Europe, Germany's DAX broke gained 1.3 percent, while France's CAC-40 rose 0.4 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 climbed 0.8 percent. In Asia, China's main stock index rose 1.4 percent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 1.4 percent. Tokyo's Nikkei 225 rose 1.1 percent, while South Korea's Kospi gained 1.3 percent. Australia's S&P/ASX200 added 2.1 percent.
ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude fell 58 cents to $40.18 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It briefly dipped below $40 a barrel Wednesday for the first time since August. Brent crude, used to price international oils, slid 13 cents to $44.01 a barrel in London.
BONDS & CURRENCIES: Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.24 percent from 2.27 percent late Wednesday. The euro rose to $1.0711 from $1.0647 while the dollar fell to 122.91 yen from 123.57 yen.