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US stocks edge lower as investors assess earnings

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NEW YORK (AP) - U.S. stocks edged lower Thursday as investors assessed some mixed news on company earnings. Energy stocks rose as oil recouped some of its losses from a big sell-off on Wednesday.

Alcoa and Bed, Bath & Beyond were among the biggest decliners after delivering earnings reports that disappointed investors.

In Europe, stocks rose to a record. Stocks in the region are being boosted by the combination of European Central Bank stimulus, a weaker euro and lower oil prices.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell one point, or less than 0.2 percent, to 2,080 as of 12:12 p.m. Eastern. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 23 points, or 0.2 percent, to 17,874. The Nasdaq composite fell five points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,945.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude rose 81 cents to $51.20 a barrel in New York. It lost $3.56, almost 7 percent, to close at $50.42 a barrel on Wednesday after the U.S. Energy Department reported oil in storage was about triple what analysts had estimated.

EARNINGS FOCUS: Company earnings will be an important focus for the market in the coming weeks. Companies in the S&P 500 are expected to report that average earnings-per-share shrank by 3.1 percent in the first quarter, according to S&P Capital IQ. If the forecast proves accurate, it will be the first time since 2009 when the U.S. economy was emerging from the Great Recession that earnings have contracted.

Oil companies are suffering from a big drop in oil prices and a rising dollar will crimp profits for big multi-national companies that make a lot of sales overseas.

THE QUOTE: "If the U.S. market is going to advance this year, it's going to need to advance mostly on the back of earnings," said Russ Koesterich, chief investment strategist at BlackRock. "That has been a struggle so far."

METAL TEST: Alcoa posted a first-quarter profit that beat Wall Street expectations, but its revenue fell short. The company is striving to transform itself from an aluminum maker into a supplier for the auto and aerospace industries, making it less sensitive to swings in commodity prices. Analysts were disappointed by the outlook for the company's rolled products, which include sheets used for drinks and food cans.

Alcoa's stock dropped 64 cents, or 4.7 percent, to $13.02, putting it among the biggest loser in the S&P 500.

DISAPPOINTING GUIDANCE: Bed Bath & Beyond slumped $4.77, or 6.1 percent, to $72.95 after reporting earnings for its fiscal fourth quarter that were below the expectations of Wall Street analysts. The company's earnings outlook was also less than analysts had been expecting. Wedbush analyst Seth Basham described the outlook as "somber" and said the company's profitability was being increasingly threatened by online competition.

EUROPEAN RECORD: The Stoxx Europe 600 index of eurozone shares hit a record on Thursday, rising 0.9 percent to edge above its previous high from early 2000. Investor optimism has been helped by the European Central Bank's 1.1 trillion euro ($1.2 billion) bond-buying program. Stocks rallied in January when the ECB said that it would start the program.

By buying government and private-sector bonds, the ECB aims to keep market interest rates low, which encourages lending and, by extension, economic growth. The U.S. Federal Reserve used a similar form of stimulus that analysts say helped push U.S. indexes to record highs.

GREEK DRAMA: Investors in Europe were relieved also by confirmation that Greece had met a debt repayment to the International Monetary Fund despite the country's cash crunch. It paid about 450 million euros on Thursday even as it is waiting for more rescue loans from its European state creditors.

EUROPE'S DAY: Britain's FTSE rose 1.1 percent to 7,015, while France's CAC 40 climbed 1.4 percent to 5,208. Germany's DAX added 1.1 percent to 12,166.

BONDS AND CURRENCIES: U.S. government bond prices fell. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note edged up to 1.93 percent. The fell to $1.0661 versus $1.0797 on Wednesday. The dollar rose to 120.35 yen from 120.15 yen the day before.

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