By Chuck Mikolajczak
(Reuters) - A sharp drop in oil prices dragged the energy sector lower and kept the Dow and S&P 500 near the unchanged mark on Wednesday, while gains in technology stocks lifted the Nasdaq.
Crude prices fell more than 3 percent, ending their longest bull run in more than five years, hurt by a stronger dollar and concerns about rising OPEC exports.
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"Energy I have a real hard time getting excited about," said Robert Phipps, director at Per Stirling Capital Management in Austin, Texas.
"The technology has come along where the cost of production just keeps coming down and down."
Shares of Exxon <XOM.N> and Chevron <CVX.N> fell by more than 1 percent and were among the biggest drags on the Dow and S&P. The S&P energy index lost 2.1 percent and was the worst performing out of the 11 major S&P sectors.
A recent set of tepid economic data and an inflation rate below the U.S. central bank's 2 percent target may have a bearing on the Federal Reserve's plans for interest rate hikes.
New orders for U.S.-made goods fell more than expected in May, data showed on Wednesday, but capital equipment orders were slightly stronger than previously reported, suggesting the manufacturing sector remained on a path of moderate growth.
Fed policymakers were increasingly split on the outlook for inflation and how it will affect the future pace of rate increases, according to minutes of the Fed's latest policy meeting on June 13-14.
"We’ve gotten a little bit of weaker economic data of late and we seem to have deflation starting to set in. That does call into question whether or not we are going to see as aggressive a Fed as they are telling us to expect," said Phipps.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average <.DJI> fell 4.7 points, or 0.02 percent, to 21,474.57, the S&P 500 <.SPX> gained 4.32 points, or 0.18 percent, to 2,433.33 and the Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> added 45.95 points, or 0.75 percent, to 6,156.01.
The tech sector's <.SPLRCT> 1.11 percent rise led the S&P 500 gainers, with Advanced Micro Devices <AMD.O>, Micron <MU.O> and Nvidia <NVDA.O> among the best performers in the sector. The PHLX semiconductor index jumped 2.02 percent
Technology shares have been volatile in recent weeks as the sector's strong run this year raised concerns about their valuation.
The tech sector index is up more than 16 percent this year.
O'Reilly Automotive <ORLY.O> plunged and was last down 18.81 percent to a near three-year low after its second-quarter same-store sales widely missed its own estimates.
That move dragged down other auto-parts retailers, with Autozone <AZO.N> down 9.07 percent and Advance Auto Parts <AAP.N> down 11.62 percent.
Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.74-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.31-to-1 ratio favored decliners.
(Reporting by Tanya Agrawal in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D'Silva and Meredith Mazzilli)