An early gain fades, leaving stocks mixed

Last Updated Jul 7, 2016 4:43 PM EDT

NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks gave up an early gain and finished the day more or less where they started.

Energy companies took some losses as the price of crude oil dropped sharply on Thursday. Chevron (CVX) sank 1.5 percent.

Phone company stocks, utilities, gold and bonds all fell. Those safe-play investments were in favor over the past two weeks after Britons voted to leave the European Union.

The Dow Jones industrial (I: DJI) fell 23 points, or 0.1 percent, to 17,896. The Standard & Poor's 500 index (SPX) dropped nearly 2 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,098. The Nasdaq (COMP) gained 18 points, or 0.4 percent, to 4,877.

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.

Investors are selling some of the safest groups of stocks, including phone companies and utilities. Duke Energy (DUK) shed $1.94, or 2.2 percent, to $85.29. Xcel Energy (XEL) lost $1.01, or 2.2 percent, to $44.32. AT&T (T) fell 80 cents, or 1.9 percent, to $42.30. The S&P 500's utility and phone company indexes have both climbed more than 20 percent this year.

The price of oil rose almost 2 percent in morning trading, but tumbled 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, but analysts expected a drop of 2.6 million barrels, according to S&P Global Platts.

Benchmark U.S. crude lost $1.60, or 3.4 percent, to $45.83 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, lost $1.66, or 3.4 percent, to $47.14 a barrel in London.

Exxon Mobil (XOM) fell $1.13, or 1.2 percent, to $92.96.

Bond prices were mixed. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note rose to 1.38 percent from 1.37 percent. Demand for the 30-year Treasury note grew, however, sending its price higher and its yield down to 2.13 percent from 2.14 percent. Both notes have set all-time lows over recent days.

Gold, which is trading at its highest price in more than two years, inched lower. Silver dropped 45 cents, or 2.2 percent, to $19.75 an ounce.

Organic food maker WhiteWave Foods (WWAV) 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 $8.80, or 18.6 percent, to $56.23.

PepsiCo (PEP) gained 1.5 percent after reporting better earnings than analysts were expecting.

Costco (COST) stock gained $7.69, or 4.9 percent, to $163.70 after the investors were pleased with the warehouse club operator's June sales.

Britain's FTSE 100 rose 1.1 percent, France's CAC 40 added 0.8 percent and Germany's DAX increased 0.5 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.

The dollar declined to 100.69 yen from 101.40 yen. The euro fell to $1.1064 from $1.1105. The British pound inched up to $1.2904 from $1.2922. It's been trading at 30-year lows over the last few days.