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US stocks hold steady, following drops around the world

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stock indexes held steady Wednesday, following drops in markets around the world. The Standard & Poor's 500 index flipped between small gains and losses after coming off its first three-day losing streak since the summer.

The recent losses have been relatively gentle, and the S&P 500 is still up more than 17 percent for 2017. But if the S&P 500 ends the day down again, it would be an unusual occurrence in what's been an unusually calm and easy year for investors. The last time the S&P 500 fell four straight days was in January.

KEEPING SCORE: The S&P 500 was up 3 points, or 0.1 percent, at 2,632, as of 3:30 p.m. Eastern time. It had flip-flopped between a loss of 0.2 percent and a gain of 0.1 percent earlier in the day.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 18, or 0.1 percent, at 24,162, and the Nasdaq composite was up 16, or 0.2 percent, at 6,778. Small-company stocks fell. The Russell 2000 index gave up 6 points, or 0.4 percent, to 1,511. More stocks fell on the New York Stock Exchange than rose.

MEANDERING MARKET: Stocks have been mostly drifting lower this week following a strong run for markets year. The ups and downs have come as the Senate and House of Representatives try to iron out differences in their proposals to overhaul the tax system, and investors shift their portfolios toward companies that stand to benefit most from lower rates, such as financial companies and retailers.

"It looks like we topped out last week and we've been rolling a bit here," said Phil Orlando, chief equity market strategist at Federated Investors. "The reality is we had a phenomenal run here, and we looked a little overbought in my mind. So I wouldn't at all discount a little bit of a correction here of 2 or 3 percent."

The market also is in a relatively quiet period, Orlando said. Companies have finished reporting how much profit they made in the summer, and the fourth-quarter reports won't start up in earnest again for more than a month. That can lead to a drifting market.

NO SMILES: Companies in the dental industry sank to some of the sharpest losses in the S&P 500 on worries that Amazon will break into the market and drive down earnings for rivals.

Patterson Companies lost $1.54, or 4.2 percent, to $34.78 for the largest loss in the index, and Henry Schein fell $3.56, or 5 percent, to $67.54.

Analysts at Morgan Stanley cut their financial estimates for the companies on signs that Amazon has gotten access to a key dental equipment maker and may line up others in coming years, among other factors.

HEALTHY COMBINATIONS: DaVita jumped to the biggest gain in the S&P 500 after UnitedHealth Group said it will buy DaVita's medical group, which serves patients through nearly 300 medical clinics, for $4.9 billion in cash.

DaVita jumped $8.19, or 13.4 percent, to $69.12.

It's the latest proposed combination to reshape the health care industry. Earlier this week, CVS Health said it will buy Aetna, the nation's third-largest health insurer.

STRENGTHENING STEEL: Stocks of U.S. steelmakers jumped after the Commerce Department said it would order duties imposed on some steel products being imported from Vietnam.

U.S. Steel jumped $1.38, or 4.6 percent, to $31.21, and AK Steel rose 24 cents, or 5.1 percent.

MARKETS ABROAD: Asian markets slumped sharply, and Japan's Nikkei 225 index lost 2 percent for its worst day since March. The Hang Seng in Hong Kong dropped 2.1 percent, and South Korea's Kospi lost 1.4 percent.

In Europe, markets trimmed their losses as the day progressed. Germany's DAX dropped 0.4 percent, and France's CAC 40 ended little changed. The FTSE 100 in London rose 0.3 percent.

ECONOMY: The main drivers for the stock market much of this year have been the improving global economy and a resulting jump in profits for businesses. A report on Wednesday implied that the U.S. job market continues to strengthen.

Private employers added 190,000 jobs last month, according to a report from payroll processor ADP. Economists see the report as a relatively good indication of what the more comprehensive federal government's jobs tally will show.

That report arrives on Friday, and it will be one of the last pieces of major economic data released before the Federal Reserve's meeting next week on interest rates. Most economists expect the Fed to raise rates, which would be the third increase of the year.

YIELDS: Treasury yields sank as prices for government bonds rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note dropped to 2.32 percent from 2.35 percent late Tuesday. The two-year yield sank to 1.79 percent from 1.83 percent, and the 30-year yield fell to 2.72 percent from 2.73 percent.

CURRENCIES: The dollar dipped to 112.28 Japanese yen from 112.62 yen late Monday. The euro fell to $1.1793 from $1.1816, and the British pound slipped to $1.3375 from $1.3442.

COMMODITIES: Benchmark U.S. crude lost $1.66 to settle at $55.96 per barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, lost $1.64 to $61.22 a barrel.

Natural gas rose a cent to $2.92 per 1,000 cubic feet, heating oil fell 5 cents to $1.86 per gallon and wholesale gasoline dropped 6 cents to $1.66 per gallon.

Gold ticked up by $1.20 to $1,266.10 per ounce, and silver fell 11 cents to $15.96 per ounce. Copper recovered a fraction of its sharp loss from the day before and rose 2 cents to $2.96 per pound.