Stocks flat after US data offset China weakness

STEVE ROTHWELL AP Markets Writer Published:

NEW YORK (AP) -- Stocks were little changed in early trading Thursday after a survey showed that U.S. manufacturing expanded at the fastest pace in almost four years. The report helped offset weak Chinese manufacturing data.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell one point, or less than 0.1 percent, to 1,827 as of 10:09 a.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones industrial average fell nine points, or less than 0.1 percent, to 16,023. The Nasdaq composite dropped five points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,232.

MADE IN THE USA: Manufacturing in the U.S. expanded at the fastest pace in almost four years in February, according to a private survey by Markit. The survey showed a strong rebound after a slowdown in January. The Markit Flash U.S. Manufacturing index rose to 56.7 from 53.7 in January. Numbers above 50 show activity increasing.

CHINA SLOWDOWN: The results from the U.S. survey contrasted with a survey of manufacturing in China, where manufacturing contracted for a second straight month in February. The preliminary version of the HSBC Corp. purchasing managers' index fell to a seven-month low of 48.3 from 49.5 in January.

FACEBOOK DEAL: Facebook slipped $1.85, or 2.7 percent, to $66.24 after the world's biggest social network announced a $19 billion purchase of the popular messaging service WhatsApp late Wednesday. Wall Street analysts had mixed feelings about the deal and the price that Facebook paid.

EARNINGS JOLT: Tesla Motors jumped $18.46, or 9.5 percent, to $212.40 in premarket trading after the electric car maker delivered a strong fourth-quarter performance late Wednesday and said it expects the company's vehicle sales to rise sharply this year.

WAL-MART OUTLOOK: Wal-Mart Stores fell $1.83, or 2.4 percent, to $73.02 after the company offered a weak profit outlook, signaling that it expects economic pressures to keep weighing on its low-income shoppers around the world. The world's largest retailer also said Thursday that its fourth-quarter profit, which covers the crucial holiday season, dropped 21 percent.

BONDS, COMMODITIES: The yield on the 10-year note was little changed from Wednesday at 2.74 percent. The price of oil fell 8 cents, or 0.1 percent, to $102.77. The price of gold fell $5.90, or 0.5 percent, to $1,314.50 an ounce.