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Stocks Reluctant to Stray From the Middle

Apparently fixated on capricious crude oil prices, traders are holding back. All three major indices are ticking lower.

Updated from 10:54 a.m. EDT

Stocks in New York saw straggly trading on both sides of the flat line Wednesday as traders kept a constant eye on oil prices that tugged in both directions, and seemed to pay little mind to any of the other rare bits of news that emerged.


Dow Jones Industrial Average

, which drove in and out of the green repeatedly this morning, was recently losing 18 points at 12,546. The

S&P 500

gave up 3 points to 1382, and the

Nasdaq Composite

shed 7 points at 2474.

"We're looking at a commodities-driven market right now," said James Park, managing director with Rodman & Renshaw. "It's funny how that's changed from a couple of months ago when it was all about the credit markets."

"It's just a mixed bag today," he added. "People are trading very listlessly. We're definitely in holiday-week mode this week."

Matt King, chief investment officer with Bell Investment Advisors, concurred. "We really think we're going to be in a very narrow range out here," he said. "There's not much news moving the markets."

As for crude oil, lately futures were in slight recovery from an early slide, rising 17 cents at $129.02 a barrel.

But gold futures were losing $9.80 at $898.10 an ounce, and the U.S. dollar continued to reap gains against both the euro and the yen. The dollar index, which measures the greenback against a basket of its major counterparts, was up 0.4%.

Still, the major averages were mostly weak despite those moves and a relatively positive report from the Commerce Department, which said that total orders of durable goods -- those designed to last three years or more -- fell just 0.5% sequentially last month. That's a bit worse than the prior month's 0.3% slip, but economists were expecting a 1.5% drop. Weighing heaviest was an 8% slide in transportation orders, without which total orders would have climbed 2.5%.

Among the losers on the corporate front was agricultural processor and ethanol maker

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Archer Daniels Midland

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, which slid 3.8% after saying it will offer up to 35 million equity units for $50 apiece in an effort to raise $2 billion.

Also, Dow component


(KO) - Get Coca-Cola Company Report

, reaffirmed its

current-quarter and full-year outlook

, though its largest bottler,

Coca-Cola Enterprises


lost 4.9% after cutting its second-quarter guidance to a profit fall in the mid-to-high single digits. Coca-Cola shares were down 1%.

Fellow industrial

Dow Chemical

(DOW) - Get Dow, Inc. Report

, meanwhile, announced that it has been forced to ramp up product prices by up to 20% as it's being bombarded by the soaring costs of energy, feedstock, and transportation. The price hike will take effect on June 1. Shares ticked up 0.9%.

Elsewhere, a German business paper reported that Sweden's SEB and France-based BNP Paribas and Societe Generale might be interested in trying to acquire


(C) - Get Citigroup Inc. Report

Citibank unit. The banks are also reportedly Deutsche Postbank and



Dresdner Bank.

Citigroup, a member of the Dow, was off 1.6%; Allianz rose 0.5%.

Meanwhile, merger discussions between United Airlines operator




US Airways


evidently have fallen apart,


reported, citing people with direct knowledge of the talks. Shares of UAL slumped 3.1% as U.S. Airways lost 4.7%.


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was one of the early winners, gaining 3.3% after saying it's pursuing an agreement to provide transportation in its air network for all of DHL's express, deferred and international package volume within the U.S. UPS also would provide airlift for DHL packages between the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Also, a Detroit paper reported that carmaker


(F) - Get Ford Motor Company Report

plans to slash its salaried work force by up to 12% as the company suffers from harsh economic conditions. Shares of Ford surrendered 0.7% following an early rise.

Treasury prices were losing ground. The 10-year note was down 18/32 in price to yield 3.99%, and the 30-year bond slid 27/32 in price, yielding 4.70%.

Markets abroad were mixed. In Asia, Tokyo's Nikkei 225 sank 1.3% overnight, and the Nikkei 225 slipped 0.1%. Europe fared better however, as London's FTSE 100 rose 0.2% and Germany's Xetra Dax climbed 1.1%. The Paris Cac jumped 1.3%.