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Stocks flat as oil drop offsets ECB stimulus

A Wall Street sign is mounted near the

A Wall Street sign is mounted near the flag-draped facade of the New York Stock Exchange on May 11, 2007. Traders will also have one eye on a raft of U.S. data, including weekly jobless claims, before Friday, Sept. 5, 2014's official monthly nonfarm payrolls report. Credit: AP / Richard Drew

Stocks were flat in afternoon trading as a slump in energy stocks offset a surprise announcement from the European Central Bank that it planned to purchase asset-backed securities in an effort to stimulate the region's ailing economy.

The stock market climbed during morning trading as investors digested the ECB's surprise move to trim its main interest rate to a record low, and its plan to purchase asset-backed securities in an effort to stimulate the region's ailing economy. Stocks had given up their gains by the afternoon as the price of oil dropped again, dragging down energy stocks.

The ECB's move caught financial markets by surprise, and pushed up stocks both in Europe and the U.S. in the morning. Some analysts had been expecting the ECB to say it was preparing a new stimulus program, but most did not expect an announcement as early as this week. The announcement also caused the euro slumped against the dollar.

There was also encouraging news for investors on the U.S. economy. U.S. services firms expanded in August at the fastest pace on record and businesses added jobs at a healthy pace in August, according to a private survey, the fifth straight month of solid gains.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 index was little changed at 2,000 as of 2:42 p.m. Eastern. The Dow Jones industrial average gained seven points, or less than 0.1 percent, to 17,084. The Nasdaq composite added four points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,576.

MORE CUTS: The ECB said it had trimmed its benchmark interest rate to 0.05 percent from a previous record low of 0.15 percent. In a news conference, ECB President Mario Draghi also said the bank would also start purchases of private sector financial assets in October. The program aims to make credit cheaper, helping investment and growth at a time when the economy of the 18-country eurozone has stalled.

DOLLAR RISES, EURO SLUMPS: Europe's single currency, which has been in retreat over the past few weeks on expectations that the ECB may pursue further stimulus measures, fell 1.6 percent to $1.2939 following the ECB's announcement. The currency is trading at its lowest level since July 2013.

OIL FALL: Another big drop in oil prices weighed on energy stocks. Benchmark U.S. crude for October delivery was down $1.20 cents to $94.77 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Energy stocks slumped the most of the 10 sectors that make up the Standard & Poor's 500 index, dropping almost 1 percent.

STRONG HIRING: U.S. businesses added jobs at a healthy pace in August, according to a private survey, the fifth straight month of solid gains. Payroll processor ADP said Thursday that private employers added 204,000 jobs last month, down from 212,000 in July, which was revised slightly lower. Job gains above 200,000 are usually enough to lower the unemployment rate.

The report comes ahead of the government's closely followed monthly jobs report on Friday.

SERVICE HIGH: U.S. services firms expanded in August at the fastest pace on record. The Institute for Supply Management said Thursday that its services index rose to 59.6 last month from 58.7 in July. The August figure is the highest recorded since the measure was introduced in January 2008.

EARNINGS BEAT: PVH, the owner of the Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger brands, was the biggest gainer in the S&P 500 index. PVH's stock surged $11.45, or 9.8 percent, to $128.58, after the company reported earnings that exceeded the expectations of Wall Street analysts.

BONDS, METALS: U.S. government bond prices slipped. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which moves inversely to its price, climbed to 2.44 percent, down from 2.40 percent late Wednesday. In metals trading, gold closed down $3.80, or 0.3 percent, at $1,266.50 an ounce. Silver slipped 5.1 cents, or 0.3 percent, to $19.14 an ounce.

Copper prices rose, climbing to 2.4 cents, or 0.8 percent, to $3.15 per pound.

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