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Stocks slip but remain on track for another winning week

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks slipped Friday as falling oil prices dragged down energy companies, but the S&P 500 remained on track to close out its third straight winning week following a brutal stretch in December.

KEEPING SCORE: The S&P 500 was down 7 points, or 0.3 percent, at 2,589, as of 3 p.m. Eastern time. It had been down as much as 0.7 percent in the morning. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 78, or 0.3 percent, to 23,923, and the Nasdaq composite lost 27, or 0.4 percent, to 6,959.

TAKING A BREATH: If the S&P 500 ends up lower for the day, it would be the first drop for the index in six days. "After some of the initial gains we saw earlier in the week I think it's just a rally looking tired," said Willie Delwiche, investment strategist at Baird. "I think it's probably not much more than a chance for people to digest the move and try to get a sense of whether we've had a bounce — and this is it — or maybe a pause as we continue to move higher."

CRUDE CALL: Energy stocks in the S&P 500 fell 0.8 percent for the largest loss among the 11 sectors that make up the index. ConocoPhillips, Diamondback Energy and Hess all fell more than 1.5 percent. Benchmark U.S. crude oil fell 1.9 percent to settle at $51.59 per barrel. It broke a nine-day winning streak, during which oil recovered a portion of sharp losses from prior months when worries flared about weakening demand and too much supply. Brent crude, the international standard, sank 1.9 percent to $60.48 a barrel.

PLAYER 2 HAS EXITED: Activision Blizzard plunged 9.6 percent to $46.40 for the largest loss in the S&P 500 after it announced its eight-year partnership with game-developer Bungie is ending. Bungie will assume full publishing rights for the popular Destiny game franchise.

REVVED UP: General Motors jumped to one of the biggest gains in the S&P 500 after it gave a profit forecast for 2019 that topped analysts' expectations. It also gave a better-than-expected forecast for 2018 profits, and shares jumped 7.5 percent to $37.35.

EARNINGS SEASON EVE: Companies across the country are gearing up to report how much profit they made in the last three months of 2018, and expectations are for a fifth straight quarter of growth topping 10 percent.

Worries have been rising about how much of a slowdown will hit corporate profits in 2019, after last year's numbers got a big one-time boost from lower tax rates. While GM gave its encouraging forecast Friday, other big-name companies have recently offered a more discouraging picture of revenue trends due to slowing growth in China and elsewhere.

That's why Baird's Delwiche and other analysts see this upcoming earnings reporting season, which kicks off in earnest next week, as the next potential trigger for more volatility in the market. Delwiche said he's particularly interested in hearing how optimistic CEOs are in the economy and their own sales forecasts in conference calls following their earnings reports.

"We've seen some retrenchment in business confidence," Delwiche said. "Is it a blip or evidence that those animal spirits that we saw are starting to dissipate?" 2019 RELIEF: The S&P 500 has been clawing back gains since running to the edge of what traders call a "bear market," when it dropped 19.8 percent between setting a record in September and a low on Christmas Eve. Stocks have climbed on soothing words from the Federal Reserve about the future path of interest rates, plus hopes that the U.S.-China trade dispute may ease. That's helped to at least paper over worries about slowing growth for corporate earnings and the possibility of a looming recession.

The S&P 500 is on pace for a 2.3 percent gain this week. If it lasts, it would be the third consecutive winning week for the index, its longest since August. Not only that, the last three weeks of gains have all been of at least 1.8 percent. The last time that happened was in 2001.

US-CHINA TALKS: Talks between American and Chinese negotiators may have ended without significant breakthroughs, but traders are choosing to focus on the positives. The fact that talks lasted a day longer than planned, conciliatory statements from both sides and the possibility of higher-level talks in the near future are driving gains in Europe and Asia. In December, U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping agreed to a 90-day tariffs cease-fire, for negotiators to soothe tensions that have unsettled trade.

MARKETS ABROAD: In Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 index jumped 1 percent, the Kospi in South Korea rose 0.6 percent and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong gained 0.5 percent. In Europe, France's CAC 40 dropped 0.5 percent, and Germany's DAX lost 0.3 percent. The FTSE 100 in London fell 0.4 percent.

INTEREST RATES: The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.70 percent from 2.73 percent late Thursday. COMMODITIES: Gold rose 0.2 percent to $1,289.50 per ounce, silver edged up 0.1 percent to $15.66 per ounce and copper rose 0.9 percent to $2.66 per pound.

Natural gas gained 4.4 percent to $3.10 per 1,000 cubic feet. Heating oil lost 1.4 percent to $1.88 per gallon, and wholesale gasoline slipped 2.1 percent to $1.40 per gallon.

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