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Weak business investment report pulls down stocks

Sidewalk-level view of the facade of the New York Stock Exchange. (Richard Drew / Associated Press)

U.S. stocks are lower again Tuesday morning after the Commerce Department said a measurement of business investment fell in February. Banks and energy companies are taking some of the biggest losses. Stocks also fell Monday after weak car sales raised some worries about spending on other types of purchases.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was down 6 points, or 0.3%, to 2,352 as of 10:15 a.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones industrial average slipped 27 points, or 0.1%, to 20,623. The Nasdaq composite fell 10 points, or 0.2%, to 5,884. The Russell 2000 index of small-company stocks edged down less than 1 point to 1,368.

SLOW START: The Commerce Department said orders to U.S. factories continued to grow in February, but a measurement of business investment spending decreased for the first time since September.

Energy companies traded lower. National Oilwell Varco fell 1.4%, to $39.14 and Exxon Mobil went down 62 cents to $81.44. Banks also lagged behind the overall market; Bank of America fell 1.4% to $23.25 and KeyCorp declined 1.1% to $17.53.

QVC IS BUYING: Alaskan telecommunications company General Communications agreed to be bought by online commerce holding company Liberty Interactive for $32.50 per share, or about $1.1 billion. Liberty said it will combine General Communications with some of its other businesses, including Liberty Broadband, Charter and LendingTree, and spin them off into a separate company. After that, Liberty Interactive will change its name to QVC Group and focus on online retail.

General Communications jumped 60% to $32.89 and Liberty Interactive rose 4.2% to $20.82.

STAPLES TRYING AGAIN? Office supply company Staples jumped 13.9% to $9.86 after the Wall Street Journal reported that the office supply company is talking to private equity firms about a potential sale. Staples tried to buy competitor Office Depot for $6.3 billion but gave up on that effort last May after regulators opposed the deal and a federal judge agreed with them, saying it would reduce competition.

CONN IS ON: Furniture and mattress retailer Conn’s surged 27.2% to $10.75 after it announced a deal with Progressive Leasing, which will offer lease-to-own options to customers who don’t qualify for credit offered by Conn’s. The contract between the companies will last for three years and Progressive said it could improve its sales. The company’s fourth-quarter adjusted profit and sales were also a bit better than analysts expected.

LIGHTS OUT: Lighting maker Acuity Brands tumbled 14.6% to $174.35 after its second-quarter profit and sales disappointed analysts. The company said the market for smaller projects remains weak, while sales in Europe, Mexico, and some other international markets were down and manufacturing costs were higher.

OIL: Benchmark U.S. crude rose 28 cents to $50.52 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, rose 44 cents to $53.57 a barrel in London.

BONDS: Bond prices inched down. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.34% from 2.33%.

CURRENCIES: The dollar slipped to 110.55 yen from 110.96 yen. The euro slipped to $1.0651 from $1.0665.

OVERSEAS: Britain’s FTSE 100 gained 0.4% and the CAC 40 in France rose 0.1%. In Germany, the DAX added 0.1%. The Japanese Nikkei 225 sank 0.9% as the yen gained against the U.S. dollar. The South Korean Kospi fell 0.3%. Markets in Hong Kong and Shanghai were closed for public holidays.