US stocks edge higher at the end of a tough week; oil falls after sharp gains the day before



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NEW YORK — U.S. stocks were flat to slightly higher Friday, giving investors a break after four straight days of losses. The price of oil slipped following a big gain the day before, when traders worried that the escalating conflict in the Middle East would affect the flow of crude from the region.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average was unchanged at 17,681 as of 12:10 p.m. Eastern. The Standard & Poor's 500 index added two points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,058 and the Nasdaq composite rose 12 points, or 0.3 percent, to 4,875.

OIL PRICES: Benchmark U.S. crude fell $1.38 to $50.03 a barrel in New York. That comes after five straight gains including a 4.5 percent jump on Thursday. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, was down $1.40 at $57.77 a barrel in London.

MIDDLE EAST: The turmoil in Yemen is a key focus for investors, particularly in oil markets. The tensions have erupted into a regional conflict, with Saudi Arabia and its allies bombing Shiite rebels allied with Iran, while Egyptian officials said a ground assault will follow the airstrikes. Iran denounced the Saudi-led air campaign, calling it "a dangerous step."

The military action has turned impoverished and chaotic Yemen into a new front in the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

CHEMISTRY: Dow Chemical rose $2.06, or 4.4 percent, to $48.49 after saying it would spin off a part of its business into another company, Olin Corp. Olin's shares jumped $5.99, or 22 percent, to $33.17 on the news.

US GDP IN FOCUS: U.S. economic growth slowed in the fourth quarter and likely cooled even further in the first quarter as severe winter weather took its toll.

The Commerce Department said gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 2.2 percent in the October-December period, unchanged from its previous estimate a month ago. The economy surged at a 5 percent rate in the third quarter.

CURRENCIES: The euro fell 0.1 percent to $1.0869. The dollar rose 0.1 percent against the Japanese currency to 119.11 yen.

BONDS: U.S. Government bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 1.97 percent from 1.99 percent late Thursday.

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