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Stocks little changed on Ukraine, Yellen speech

NEW YORK (AP) -- Stocks were little changed Friday after a speech by Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen left investors unsure on how the nation's most important financial voice feels about raising interest rates in the coming months. Investors were also monitoring another flare-up in tensions between Ukraine and Russia.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average lost 15 points, or 0.1 percent, to 17,024 as of 11:36 a.m. Eastern. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell three points, or 0.1 percent, to 1,990 and the Nasdaq composite was up six points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,538.

UKRAINE: A Russian aid convoy entered Ukraine, defying the government there. The trucks are meant to bring supplies to residents in rebel-held zones where separatists are fighting with the Ukrainian government. There are concerns the move by Moscow could cause a direct confrontation between Ukrainian and Russian units. Germany's DAX fell 0.8 percent and France's CAC 40 fell 1.1 percent.

YELLEN SPEECH: Investors also have their eyes West to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where Yellen addressed an annual conference of central bankers and other policymakers from around the globe.

In her speech, which focused on labor markets, Yellen said the Great Recession complicated the Fed's ability to assess the U.S. job market and made it harder to determine when to adjust interest rates. Yellen offered no signal that she's altered her view that the economy still needs support from the Fed in the form of ultra-low interest rates.

The timing of a Fed rate increase remains unclear, however most investors expect the first one to come sometime in 2015.

Yellen's speech comes two days after a report from the Fed seemed to show a growing chorus of policymakers wanting to raise interest rates.

“We believe that we are at the beginning of a very significant period of transition for (the) Fed, and consequently for markets,” said Rick Rieder, a fixed income fund manager at Blackrock, in an e-mail.

INVESTORS' INTEREST IN INTEREST RATES: The nation's key interest rate, known as the Federal Funds Rate, has been near zero since late 2008 in order to simulate economic activity and demand. The downside to low interest rates is the possibility that the U.S. economy could recover too quickly and heat up, leading to inflation.

The Fed Funds rate helps determine interest rates on a variety of financial services including mortgages, credit cards and the yields that bond pay. Many investors believe the U.S. economy has recovered enough from the depths of the financial crisis to warrant higher interest rates.

The Fed has been winding down another economic stimulus program, large-scale purchases of bonds in the open market, since December.

DRAGHI'S TURN: The Jackson Hole meeting's other big speech will be given by European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi. He's expected to give his view on the eurozone economy, which is stagnating even as rates are ultralow and stimulus is plentiful. “Overall, the tale of two speeches today is likely to be that monetary policy stimulus is still here for a while yet in the U.S., and a very long while in Europe,” said Rabobank analyst Michael Every.

ELECTRIFYING: Dynergy jumped $4.28, or 14 percent, to $33.96 after the company announced it was buying $6.25 billion in power plants from Duke Energy and Energy Capital Partners. The deal would double Dynergy's power generation capabilities. Duke Energy rose 68 cents, or 1 percent, to $73.72 on the news as well.

MIND THE GAP: Clothing chain Gap jumped $2.02, or 5 percent, to $45.20. Gap said its profits rose 10 percent in the second quarter, helped by lower expenses and higher sales. The company also said it plans to expand in India.

BONDS AND COMMODITIES: U.S. government bond prices were little changed. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note was flat at 2.41 percent. Benchmark crude oil fell 88 cents to $93.08 a barrel in New York. Gold rose $5.90 to $1,281.30 an ounce.

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AP Business Writer Kelvin Chan contributed to this report from Hong Kong.

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