Dow at record but S&P flat as energy stocks track crude oil prices lower

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Dow industrials closed at a record high on Thursday, boosted by gains in Wal-Mart, but the S&P 500 was little changed as energy shares tracked crude futures prices lower.

The energy sector cut its losses late in the session after Dow Jones reported Halliburton is in talks to buy Baker Hughes. Halliburton ended up 1 per cent after earlier falling as much as 4.6 per cent, while Baker Hughes rallied to close up 15.3 per cent at US$58.75.

They were, however, the only two stocks to finish higher in the energy sector of the S&P 500, which closed down 1.3 per cent. Energy shares fell as Brent crude slid below US$78 a barrel while U.S. crude tumbled 3.6 per cent to US$74.39, both at their lowest in more than four years.

Wal-Mart closed up 4.7 per cent at US$82.94 after posting higher same-store sales for the first time in seven quarters.

"Wal-Mart is showing strength, showing the natural relation it should have with (lower) energy prices," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities in New York.

Consumer-related companies are expected to see more demand as lower gasoline costs free up cash. "But while we're waiting for (other) consumer stocks to rise, lower energy prices continue to be a headwind," Hogan said.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 40.59 points, or 0.23 per cent, to 17,652.79, the S&P 500 gained 1.08 points, or 0.05 per cent, to 2,039.33 and the Nasdaq Composite added 5.01 points, or 0.11 per cent, to 4,680.14.

Apple rose as high as US$113.45 to a fresh record while Microsoft, up 1.7 per cent to US$49.61, swelled to a market cap above US$408 billion. It overtook Exxon Mobil as the second-largest publicly traded U.S. company, behind Apple.

DreamWorks Animation shares jumped 14.1 per cent to US$25.52 after the New York Times said toymaker Hasbro Inc was in talks to buy the Hollywood studio. Hasbro shares lost 4.3 per cent to US$54.98.

U.S.-traded BlackBerry shares jumped 7 per cent to US$12.06 after it unveiled its new mobile-device management and security platform and struck wide-ranging partnerships.