September 22, 2017 / 5:16 PM / a year ago

US STOCKS-Wall St flat as gains in energy, industrials offset healthcare losses

* North Korea rhetoric drives demand for safe-haven gold

* Healthcare stocks weigh on Dow

* Apple biggest drag on S&P, Nasdaq

* Indexes down: Dow 0.12 pct, S&P 0.05 pct, Nasdaq 0.07 pct (Updates to early afternoon)

By Sruthi Shankar

Sept 22 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were little changed in early afternoon trading on Friday as losses in healthcare and technology stocks were evened out by gains in energy and industrial stocks.

Uncertainty over the healthcare bill took a toll on health insurers with UnitedHealth sliding more than 2.3 percent to weigh the most on the Dow. Shares of other insurers Aetna and Humana also fell more than 1 percent.

Republican leaders are trying to win more support as they plan to bring the new bill to a vote next week, in what is considered their "last best chance" to repeal Obamacare.

The S&P and the Nasdaq were weighed down by a 1.4 percent fall in Apple's shares as the launch of iPhone 8 kicked off in a less lively mood in Asia.

However, the losses in all three indexes were capped by gains in energy and industrial stocks. Boeing and Chevron rose about 0.5 percent to support the Dow.

Simmering tensions between the United States and North Korea kept investors drove investors to safe-haven assets, lifting gold from a four-week low.

North Korea said it might test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean in response to U.S. President Donald Trump's threat to destroy the reclusive country.

"It's a little bit of a risk-off move. We seem to be getting a lot of rhetoric, both from the administration and North Korea, and it would be premature to say there is an end," said Marcelle Daher, senior managing director, asset allocation at Manulife Asset Management.

"But generally the market tends to shrug these things off."

The latest spike in tensions prompted demand for gold, which rebounded from a four-week low on Friday.

At 12:33 p.m. ET (1633 GMT), the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 27.83 points, or 0.12 percent, at 22,331.4, the S&P 500 was down 1.36 points, or 0.05 percent, at 2,499.24 and the Nasdaq Composite was down 4.66 points, or 0.07 percent, at 6,418.03.

The Dow was on track to end the week in gains, but the S&P and the Nasdaq were poised for weekly losses.

Five of the 11 major S&P sectors were higher, led 0.81 percent jump in the telecom services index, followed by a 0.37 percent rise in the energy index.

Oil prices were mixed on Friday, hovering close to their highest levels in months, as major producers may wait until January before deciding whether to extend their output curbs beyond the first quarter.

The rate-sensitive utilities index was the biggest laggard, on track to clock its worst weekly loss since Nov. 2016.

T-Mobile rose 0.20 percent after Reuters reported the company was close to agreeing tentative terms on a deal to merge with Sprint. Sprint shares jumped 4.79 percent.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,750 to 1,048. On the Nasdaq, 1,644 issues rose and 1,130 fell. (Reporting by Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur)

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