Hiring grows, oil skids and U.S. stocks barely budge

NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks were little changed Thursday morning as chemical companies traded higher , but investors sold utility and phone company stocks, safe assets they've favored in the wake of Britain's vote to leave the European Union. A payroll survey showed that employers hired more workers in June after a slowdown in the months before.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial lost 8 points to 17,910 as of 11:35 a.m. Eastern time. The Standard & Poor's 500 index was unchanged at 2,100. The Nasdaq composite gained 11 points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,870.

HIRING: Investors are looking at reports showing healthy hiring. A survey by payroll processor ADP said U.S. companies added 172,000 jobs in June, a sign hiring may have picked up again after it slowed down in April and May. ADP's estimate is based on private companies, and the U.S. government will release its own hiring report on Friday. The government said weekly applications for unemployment benefits fell 16,000 to 254,000 last week, another sign employers continue to hire more workers.

MATERIALS: Chemical and other materials companies traded higher. LyondelBasell Industries rose $1.48, or 2 percent, to $74.59 and DuPont gained 63 cents, or 1 percent, to $62.48. Agribusiness giant Monsanto added 89 cents to $100.29.

SAFE PICKS: Investors are selling some of the safest groups of stocks, including phone companies and utilities. Duke Energy shed $1.68, or 1.9 percent, to $85.55. Xcel Energy lost 90 cents, or 2 percent, to $44.43. AT&T fell 57 cents, or 1.3 percent, to $42.54. The S&P 500's utility and phone company indexes have both climbed more than 20 percent this year.

BONDS, GOLD: Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note climbed to 1.39 percent from 1.37 percent. The yield on the 30-year Treasury bond held steady at 2.14 percent. Both have been setting all-time lows over recent days.

Gold, which is trading at its highest price in more than two years, inched lower. Silver dropped 50 cents, or 2.1 percent, to $19.70 an ounce.

ENERGY: Oil prices fell after the Energy Information Administration said stockpiles remained historically high and didn't decrease by as much as investors expected. The EIA said crude oil inventories shrank by 2.2 million barrels last week, while analysts expected a drop of 2.6 million barrels, according to S&P Global Platts.

Benchmark U.S. crude lost 93 cents, or 2 percent, to $46.50 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell 99 cents, or 2 percent, to $47.81 a barrel in London. Energy prices were higher at the start of the day.

PEP IN ITS STEP: PepsiCo's quarterly profit surpassed Wall Street forecasts. The company said customers are buying more of its new products, including drink options that are marketed as healthier or "craft." It also posted stronger sales of Frito-Lay snacks. Its stock rose $2.33, or 2.2 percent, to $108.25.

WHITEWAVE SWEPT UP: Organic food maker WhiteWave Foods jumped after French yogurt giant Danone agreed to buy the company for $56.25 a share, or about $10 billion. The deal would expand Danone's range of health foods and the U.S. market. WhiteWave gained $8.82, or 18.6 percent, to $56.25.

AVG LOCKED DOWN: Dutch anti-virus software company AVG Technologies surged after rival Avast Software agreed to buy it for $25 a share, or $1.3 billion. AVG stock advanced $5.82, or 30.9 percent, to $24.61.

WILD WEST: Hard drive maker Western Digital forecast stronger results for its fiscal fourth quarter after it acquired flash memory chip maker SanDisk in May. Western Digital stock rose $2.14, or 4.7 percent, to $47.60 and competitor Seagate Technology gained 48 cents, or 2 percent, to $24.

OVERSEAS: European shares posted strong gains. Britain's FTSE 100 rose 1.3 percent, France's CAC 40 added 0.9 percent and Germany's DAX increased 0.6 percent. Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index slipped 0.7 percent. South Korea's Kospi climbed 1.1 percent and Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 1 percent.

CURRENCIES: The dollar declined to 100.75 yen from 101.40 yen. The euro fell to $1.1066 from $1.1105. The British pound inched up to $1.2935 from $1.2922. It's been trading at 30-year lows over the last few days.