By Noel Randewich
(Reuters) - U.S. stocks ended mixed on Thursday, with gains in telecommunications and consumer staples helping make up for a tumble in Apple to a two-year low.
The S&P 500 and Dow Jones swerved between gains and losses before ending virtually flat. Up 0.90 percent, Microsoft was the largest upward force in the S&P 500.
Apple Inc (AAPL.O), a mainstay in many portfolios, was the heaviest drag on the three major indexes, slumping 2.35 percent to $90.34, its lowest since June 2014, as worries festered about slowing demand for iPhones.
A rally in the S&P 500 from its February lows petered out in the last two weeks amid underwhelming corporate reports and economic data that clouded the path of interest rate increases this year. The index is now up about 1 percent in 2016.
On Thursday, two U.S. Federal Reserve officials said the central bank should raise rates if data points to an improving economy.
"I don't see any conviction on the part of buyers or sellers at this point," said Warren West, principal at Greentree Brokerage Services in Philadelphia. "It's a slow, grinding economy, so you're going to get slow, grinding stocks."
The Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI) finished 0.05 percent higher at 17,720.5 points and the S&P 500 (.SPX) ended down 0.02 percent at 2,064.11.
Pinched by Apple's drop, the Nasdaq Composite (.IXIC) fell 0.49 percent to 4,737.33.
Seven of the 10 major S&P 500 sectors ended higher, led by a 0.72 percent gain in telecommunications (.SPLRCL) and a 0.54 percent rise in consumer staples (.SPLRCS).
The health index (.SPXHC) lost 0.58 percent, with Allergan (AGN.N) down 3 percent.
Monsanto Co (MON.N) rose 8.39 percent after media reports said the seed company was a possible acquisition target.
First-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies have mostly beaten analysts' expectations, but are estimated to have fallen 5.4 percent from a year ago, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Kohl's Corp (KSS.N) tumbled 9.17 percent after posting an unexpected drop in quarterly comparable sales.
Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,533 to 1,449. On the Nasdaq, 1,912 issues fell and 909 advanced.
The S&P 500 index showed 28 new 52-week highs and 15 new lows, while the Nasdaq had 25 new highs and 104 new lows.
About 7.2 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, matching the daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters data.
(Additional reporting by Tanya Agrawal; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Nick Zieminski)