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US stocks drift mostly lower in early afternoon trading

Major U.S. indexes are drifting mostly lower in early afternoon trading. Energy companies fell more than the rest of the market as crude oil prices dropped. Banks also moved lower. European markets fell after the British government said it will formally begin the process of leaving the European Union next week.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor’s 500 index lost 6 points, or 0.3 percent, to 2,372 as of 1:50 p.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones industrial average slipped 11 points, less than 0.1 percent, to 20,90. The Nasdaq composite fell 8 points, or 0.1 percent, to 5,892. The Russell 2000 of small-company stocks lost 9 points, or 0.7 percent, to 1,382. Trading was relatively light. More stocks fell than rose on the New York Stock Exchange.

The stock market has mostly been quiet this month. The market’s two big moves were both linked to the Federal Reserve: on March 1 stocks jumped after the central bank signaled it would raise rates, and they climbed last Wednesday after the Fed made it clear it will move slowly for the rest of the year.

BRITAIN MUST BE GOING: Britain’s government said it will trigger the process of leaving the EU on March 29. That will start a long negotiation between Britain and the EU, with uncertain effects for banks and other companies. The country is expected to officially leave the union in 2019.

Wells Fargo fell 76 cents, or 1.3 percent, to $57.92 and Synchrony Financial gave up 69 cents, or 2 percent, to $34.43.

CURRENCY: The British pound slipped to $1.2350 from $1.2396 late Friday, and it’s down about 20 percent since Britain voted to leave the EU in late June. The dollar declined to 112.61 yen from 112.70 yen. The euro inched up to $1.0745 from $1.0743.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude declined 38 cents to $48.40 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, remained at $51.76 a barrel in London.

Drilling rig operator Transocean lost 29 cents, or 2.3 percent, to $12.18 and oilfield services company Schlumberger dipped $1.06, or 1.3 percent, to $78.49.

LEADERS AND LAGGARDS: Apple picked up $1.18 to $141.17 and chipmaker Nvidia rose $3.26, or 3.1 percent, to $109.32. Basic materials companies like DuPont also rose. Utilities, which have had a strong run over the last month, traded lower.

DIAMOND? MINE! Dominion Diamond climbed $1.90, or 19.2 percent, to $11.82 after Washington Cos. went public with an offer to buy the diamond mining company for $13.50 per share, or about $1.1 billion. Dominion Diamond said it is willing to engage in talks but said Washington doesn’t have experience in the diamond industry and questioned the timing of the offer. Washington Cos. said it first made its offer in February and that Dominion Diamond isn’t willing to open its books.

DRUG DEVELOPMENT: Nektar Therapeutics soared after the company said an experimental pain drug met its goals in a late-stage study. Its NKTR-181 is an opioid drug designed to relieve pain without causing euphoria, which the company said can contribute to drug abuse and addiction. It studied NKTR-181 as a treatment for lower back pain. Nektar stock rose $5.62, or 36.3 percent, to $21.12.

Array BioPharma fell 49 cents, or 4.6 percent, to $10.07 after it withdrew a marketing application for its melanoma drug binimetinib. After Array talked to regulators, the company said it was clear they wouldn’t approve the drug based on its most recent trial. It will continue studies of binemetinib.

TRADE: Finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of 20 major economies dropped a pledge to eschew protectionism in a statement Saturday. The move came after pressure from the U.S. During his campaign President Donald Trump promised to rewrite trade deals, and he ditched the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed pact between 12 countries that border the Pacific Ocean which represented around 40 percent of global economic output.

BONDS: Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.47 percent from 2.50 percent.

OVERSEAS: Britain’s FTSE 100 edged up 0.1 percent. France’s CAC-40 fell 0.3 percent and the DAX in Germany declined 0.4 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index gained 0.8 percent and the Kospi in South Korea shed 0.4 percent. Japanese markets were closed for a holiday.


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