US stocks are little changed in afternoon trading; eBay jumps on plans to spin off PayPal

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NEW YORK — The stock market flipped between slight gains and losses on Tuesday, keeping the Standard & Poor's 500 index on course for its third monthly drop this year. Ford Motor sank after cutting its profit forecast, while eBay jumped after announcing plans to spin off PayPal. Oil prices plunged, pulling energy companies' stocks down.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average fell 13 points, or 0.1 percent, to 17,058 as of 2:57 p.m. Eastern time. The S&P 500 slipped four points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,974. The Nasdaq composite lost nine points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,496

MEANDERING: Trading has turned choppy since the S&P 500 hit a record Sept. 18. Part of the reason is lingering concerns over conflicts around the world, corporate profits and the global economy, said Robert Pavlik, chief market strategist at Banyan Partners. Investors are also wary of the fact that some of the market's worst swoons have happened in the months of September and October. "People are unsure at this time of the year," Pavlik said. "We're heading into October. Like September, it's another typically bad month for the market."

BREAKUP: EBay jumped 8 percent, the biggest gain in the S&P 500, following news that it plans to spin off its PayPal payment service into a publicly traded company next year. Carl Icahn, the billionaire investor, had been pushing eBay to make just such a move. EBay's President and CEO John Donahoe will step down after overseeing the split. Ebay jumped $3.99 to $56.67.

FORD: Ford fell after saying that it expects to fall short of its previously announced targets for profit. Bob Shanks, the car maker's chief financial officer, said record profits in North America aren't enough to offset trouble in South America, where Ford expects to lose $1 billion this year, and Russia, where falling sales and a steep fall in the ruble took the company by surprise. Ford dropped 31 cents, or 2 percent, to $14.80.

OIL: Benchmark U.S. crude plunged $3.41, or 3.6 percent, to $91.16. Oil fell on the latest signs of plentiful supplies. The dollar's rise against other currencies also sent oil prices lower.

CRUEL MONTH: The S&P 500 has slumped 1 percent in September, putting it on track to end the month with a loss for only the third time in the past decade. Despite its bad reputation, September had actually been good to investors. Over the past 10 years, the S&P 500 turned in a September loss during the financial crisis in 2008 and following a fight over raising the government's borrowing limit in 2011.

OVER THERE: Major markets in Europe were mixed. France's CAC-40 rose 1.3 percent and Germany's DAX gained 0.5 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 slipped 0.4 percent.

PROTESTS: In Hong Kong, thousands of pro-democracy protestors blocked streets in the business district. They want the Chinese government to allow open elections for Hong Kong's top office, whereas Beijing wants candidates to be vetted by a panel dominated by supporters of the mainland govenrment.

ASIA'S DAY: Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index tumbled 1.3 percent. Tokyo's Nikkei 225 was down as much as 1.5 percent but rebounded to end the day down 0.8 percent. China's Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.3 percent.

EUROZONE STIMULUS HOPES: A new batch of economic reports furthered speculation that the European Central Bank might provide more support for the region's economy. The annual inflation rate dropped to 0.3 percent, the weakest rate since October 2009. The report added pressure on the ECB to start a more aggressive stimulus program involving large-scale purchases of bonds.

DOLLAR & BONDS: The dollar rose to 109.79 yen while the euro fell to $1.2583 after weak eurozone inflation data. U.S. government bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.49 percent.

METALS: The price of gold fell $7.20 to settle at $1,211.60 an ounce, silver fell 51 cents to $17.06 an ounce and copper dropped 5 cents to $3.01 a pound.

AP Business Writer Joe McDonald contributed from Bangkok.

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