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After an early wobble, US stocks edge higher in late trade

U.S. stock indexes moved slightly higher in late-afternoon trading, reversing an earlier slide. Health care companies led the rebound. Energy stocks were the biggest laggard following a meeting of OPEC ministers that ended without an agreement on crude production cuts.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average edged up 19 points, or 0.1 percent, to 17,809 as of 3:14 p.m. Eastern time. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index gained two points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,101. The Nasdaq composite index added 10 points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,962.

THE QUOTE: Trading has been subdued as investors hold out for more clues as to whether the Federal Reserve will raise its key interest rate at the central bank’s next meeting of policymakers later this month.

“This is just noise trading around on low volume,” said Scott Wren, senior global equity strategist at Wells Fargo Investment Institute. “Even with tomorrow’s employment data coming out, I don’t think there’s much that’s going to move the market out of this range we’ve been in until we get some clarity out of the Fed.”

FEELING HEALTHY: Health care sector companies were among the biggest gainers in the S&P 500. Drugmaker Endo International rose 88 cents, or 5.3 percent, to $17.50, while health insurer Humana climbed $7.83, or 4.4 percent, to $185.23. Aetna gained $4.30, or 3.7 percent, to $119.59.

SEXY SALES: L Brands, the company behind the Victoria’s Secret brand, rose 4 percent after it reported its latest sales figures. The stock added $2.69 to $71.10.

COME ON, VOGUE: Johnson & Johnson rose on news the company has agreed to buy privately-held hair care products maker Vogue International for about $3.3 billion. Vogue’s hair care products are sold in the U.S. and 38 other countries. Johnson & Johnson shares rose $1.77, or 1.6 percent, to $114.55.

ENERGY: OPEC oil ministers ended a meeting in Vienna without reaching a consensus on regulating supplies. Crude oil prices bounced back after an initial slide. Benchmark U.S. crude oil rose 16 cents, or 0.3 percent, to close at $49.17 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, which is used to price international oils, added 32 cents, or 0.6 percent, to close at $50.04 a barrel in London. Natural gas rose 2 cents, or 1 percent, to close at $2.405 per 1,000 cubic feet. Wholesale gasoline rose 2 cents, or 1.2 percent, at $1.63 a gallon, while heating oil gained a penny to close at $1.51 a gallon.

OIL FALLOUT: Shares in several oil drilling and exploration companies were down. Diamond Offshore Drilling lost $1, or 4 percent, to $24.31, while Transocean slid 19 cents, or 1.9 percent, to $9.64. Anadarko Petroleum fell 95 cents, or 1.8 percent, to $51.45.

ROUGH QUARTER: Conn’s sank 24.6 percent after the retailer reported quarterly results that fell short of analysts’ estimates. The stock lost $2.88 to $8.83.

IN THE CLOUD: Online storage provider Box tumbled 10.1 percent after the company reported disappointing results late Wednesday. The stock fell $1.30 to $11.51.

LAYOFFS PROXY: The Labor Department said fewer Americans applied for jobless aid last week, the third straight drop in a sign that the job market remains healthy despite a recent slowdown in hiring. Weekly applications for unemployment aid dipped 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 267,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell to 276,750.

MARKETS OVERSEAS: In Europe, stock indexes were mixed after the European Central Bank said that its stimulus measures are helping the economy of the 19 countries that use the euro and need time to work before any new monetary jolts are added. Germany’s DAX was flat, while France’s CAC 40 fell 0.2 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 lost 0.1 percent. In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 fell 2.3 percent after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe decided to postpone a sales tax hike to avoid shocks to the faltering recovery. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index rose 0.5 percent. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 lost 0.8 percent. South Korea’s KOSPI rose 0.1 percent.

BONDS AND CURRENCIES: U.S. government bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 1.81 percent from 1.84 late Wednesday. In currency markets, the dollar fell to 108.91 yen from 109.54 in the previous day’s trading. The euro fell to $1.1148 from $1.1186.

METALS: Precious and industrial metals futures closed little changed. Gold fell $2.10 to $1,212.60 an ounce, silver gained 10 cents to $16.03 an ounce and copper was flat at $2.07 a pound.

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