US stock indexes flat as investors weigh economic data

U.S. stock indexes were little changed in early trading Tuesday as investors weighed new economic data, including figures showing that spending by consumers in the U.S. increased last month by the largest amount in more than six years. Energy companies were among the biggest gainers as the price of crude oil rose.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average slipped six points to 17,866 as of 10:03 a.m. Eastern time. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index added two points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,101. The Nasdaq composite index gained 12 points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,945.

EYE ON CONSUMERS: The Commerce Department said that U.S. consumer spending rose 1 percent in April, led by a big jump in purchases of autos and other durable goods. Wages and salaries, the most important component of incomes, gained 0.5 percent. The strong gain for consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of economic activity, is a good sign that the economy is doing better in the current quarter after nearly stalling out at the start of the year.

HOME PRICES: The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index increased 5.4 percent in March versus a year earlier. A limited supply of homes for sale in many markets has helped push up prices. So far, the higher costs haven’t thwarted sales, however.

ENERGIZED: Several natural gas and oil companies were riding the latest gain in energy prices. Southwestern Energy jumped 79 cents, or 6 percent, to $13.85, while Williams Cos. rose $1.15, or 5.4 percent, to $22.63. Marathon Oil added 63 cents, or 4.9 percent, to $13.53.

POWER DEAL: Westar Energy, the biggest utility company in Kansas, surged 6.5 percent after Great Plains Energy agreed to buy it for $8.5 billion, or $60 per share in cash and stock. The deal will give Great Plains a total of 1.5 million customers in Kansas and Missouri. Westar climbed $3.42 to $56.34. Great Plains Energy slid $1.92, or 6.2 percent, to $28.09.

GLOBAL OUTLOOK: A Japanese report showed factory output and consumer spending data improving in April from the previous month, though they remained weak. In Europe, the data was more downbeat, with inflation remaining below zero in May. That is a sign of economic weakness but is not considered bad enough to prompt the European Central Bank to consider more stimulus at its next meeting Thursday, analysts say.

MARKETS OVERSEAS: In Europe, Germany’s DAX edged 0.2 percent lower, while France’s CAC 40 slipped 0.2 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 was roughly flat. Earlier in Asia, Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 closed 1 percent higher, while South Korea’s Kospi added 0.8 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng climbed 0.9 percent. Sydney’s S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.5 percent. Shares in Taiwan and Southeast Asia were mostly lower.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude oil was up 56 cents, or 1.1 percent, at $49.89 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, was up 11 cents at $50.47 a barrel in London. Natural gas was up 8 cents, or 3.8 percent, at $2.25 per 1,000 cubic feet.

BONDS AND CURRENCIES: Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 1.88 percent from 1.86 late Friday. U.S. markets were closed Monday for the Memorial Day holiday. In currency markets, the dollar strengthened to 111.18 yen from 110.38 yen in Friday’s trading. The euro rose to $1.1168 from $1.1114.

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