Falling oil prices drag U.S. stock market lower _lowres

Associated Press photo by RICHARD DREW -- Traders Anthony Riccio, left, and Patrick Casey work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Thursday. The stock market sputtered to an indecisive close, taking a pause after three straight days of losses.

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks were on track for a fourth straight day of declines Thursday as energy companies dragged down the broader market. Once again, economic concerns in Europe were translating into worries in the U.S.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average fell 23 points, or 0.1 percent, to 16,781 as of 1:45 p.m. Eastern. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell three points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,942 and the Nasdaq composite was unchanged at 4,423.

OIL WEAKNESS: Oil continued its multi-week slide Thursday, falling briefly below $90 a barrel, after OPEC announced it would keep oil production at its current levels despite a weakening global economy and a glut in world oil supplies. Benchmark U.S. crude oil was down 15 cents to $90.58 a barrel in New York. Brent crude oil, which is used internationally to price oil, fell $1.59 to $92.57 a barrel.

Lower oil prices are by and large good for the average U.S. consumer because it translates into lower gas prices. But lower oil prices hurt the profitability of energy companies, which make up a large part of the U.S. stock market.

Nabors Industries slumped $1.15, or 5 percent, to $21.02, Halliburton fell $1.72, or 3 percent, to $60.75 and Chesapeake Energy fell 30 cents, or 1 percent, to $22.13.

TOUGH WEEK: The S&P 500 and Dow are each down roughly 2 percent this week, putting them on course for their worst week since the beginning of August. The S&P 500 is on pace for its first four-day drop since December 2013.

EUROPEAN WORRIES: European stock markets sank Thursday following comments from European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, who said the bank would keep interest rates at record-low levels and start a bond-buying program to help boost economic demand. The program’s details were limited, causing investors to hit the “sell” button across the continent.

“(Draghi) missed an opportunity today to greatly expand (the bank’s economic stimulus programs) and he blew it,” said Doug Cote, chief market strategist at Voya Investment Management.

Germany’s DAX lost 2 percent, France’s CAC-40 index fell 2.8 percent and the United Kingdom’s FTSE 100 fell 1.7 percent. Some of Europe’s riskier stock markets, such as Spain and Italy, were down as much as 4 percent.

Europe’s economic weakness has been a problem for U.S. investors for several weeks now. U.S. companies sell goods globally and if Europe’s economic slowdown were to continue, it could hit company’s profits.

US DATA: Wall Street had bit of positive economic news to work through Thursday. The number people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits dropped 8,000 last week to 287,000, the lowest level in more than eight years. Overall, 2.3 million people are receiving unemployment benefits, the fewest since June 2006.

Investors are waiting for the closely watched monthly jobs report, released Friday by the Labor Department. Economists expect U.S. employers added 215,000 workers in September and the unemployment rate remained at its current level of 6.1 percent.

EBOLA: Airline stocks were making a modest recovery after sliding on Wednesday. American Airlines, United Continental, and Delta were all up 2 percent or more. Airline stocks got beaten down yesterday on fears that the news of the first diagnosed case of Ebola in the U.S. might curtail demand for travel.

ANALYST’S TAKE: “Confirmation of a case of Ebola in the U.S. has joined a growing list of bad news stories with geo-political tensions in Ukraine and Hong Kong, and growth concerns around China and Europe sapping risk appetite,” said Niall King of CMC Markets in a commentary.

SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: DirecTV rose 79 cents, or 1 percent, to $87.38 after the company said it had reached an agreement with the NFL to continue to carry Sunday afternoon games.

BONDS: U.S. government bond prices fell slightly. The yield on the 10-year Treasury rose to 2.42 percent.