* Indexes off: Dow 0.14 pct, S&P 0.1 pct, Nasdaq 0.04 pct
By Chuck Mikolajczak
NEW YORK, Sept 23 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were little changed on Tuesday, as conflict in the Middle East intensified to push the energy sector higher, offsetting declines in the healthcare space after the U.S. Treasury moved to curb “tax inversion” deals.
The United States and Arab allies bombed Syria for the first time on Tuesday, killing dozens of Islamic State fighters and members of a separate al Qaeda-linked group, pursuing a campaign against militants into a war at the heart of the Middle East.
The strikes pushed crude prices higher, with Brent touching a high of $97.59 and U.S. crude up as high as $91.90 before paring gains on higher output from Libya and Iraq. The S&P energy index rose 0.6 percent and was the best performing of the 10 major S&P industry groups.
“Some of the reticence to be involved might just be a little bit of this global turmoil that seems to be escalating here,” said Gordon Charlop, a managing director at Rosenblatt Securities in New York.
“The fact of the matter is once we have gotten to 2,000 on the S&P, we’ve had some trouble getting through that and sustaining that, so we are sort of range-bound.”
The healthcare sector was lower, weighed down by a 2 percent drop in AbbVie to $57.51 after the Obama administration took several actions late Monday that will reduce the tax benefits available to companies that have done inversion deals, while also making new inversions more difficult and potentially less rewarding.
AbbVie has agreed to a deal to acquire Shire, which fell 2.2 percent $250.75.
The Dow Jones industrial average was falling 23.18 points, or 0.14 percent, to 17,149.5, the S&P 500 was losing 2.09 points, or 0.1 percent, to 1,992.2 and the Nasdaq Composite was dropping 2.02 points, or 0.04 percent, to 4,525.67.
Financial data firm Markit said its preliminary or “flash” U.S. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index was unchanged from August’s reading of 57.9, the highest since April 2010, and a touch below the 58 estimate.
The largest percentage gainer on the New York Stock Exchange was NQ Mobile, rising 9.71 percent, while the largest percentage decliner was Carmax, down 8.60 percent after reporting quarterly results.
Among the most active stocks on the NYSE were Grupo Aval Acciones, up 1.56 percent to $13.71; Bank Of America , up 0.59 percent to $17.13; and Alibaba, down 2.05 percent to $88.05.
On the Nasdaq, Yahoo, up 0.5 percent to $38.85; Apple, up 0.8 percent to $101.86; and Sirius XM , up 0.6 percent to $3.54, were among the most actively traded.
Declining issues were outnumbering advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,478 to 1,302, for a 1.14-to-1 ratio on the downside; on the Nasdaq, 1,280 issues were falling and 1,132 advancing for a 1.13-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.
The benchmark S&P 500 index was posting 1 new 52-week highs and 6 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite was recording 16 new highs and 73 new lows. (Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Nick Zieminski)