Jason DeCrow, File, Associated Press
FILE-In a Friday, Aug. 31, 2012, file photo, a trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, in New York. Markets were subdued Wednesday Oct. 3, 2012 as investors awaited a run of U.S. economic figures.

NEW YORK — Stocks are mostly higher in early trading on Wall Street Wednesday after a measure of private sector hiring came in better than economists were expecting.

The gains were held in check by a slump in energy stocks, which fell as the price of crude oil dropped sharply.

The Dow Jones was up 18 points at 13,498 shortly after 10 a.m. Chevron was the Dow's laggard, sinking $1.16 to $116.81.

Concerns over an economic slowdown in Europe, China and the U.S. helped push the price of crude oil down $1.46 to $90.41 a barrel.

Investors were also encouraged by faster growth in U.S. service companies, which employ nearly 90 percent of the work force.

The Institute for Supply Management says its index of non-manufacturing business in the U.S. grew in September at the fastest pace since March.

The discount chain Family Dollar Stores rose 5 percent in early trading after posting stronger net income and sales. The store's customers also spent more money on the average sale. Family Dollar Stores' stock gained $3.20 to $69.20.

Monsanto fell 2 percent. The maker of agricultural products such as corn seeds and herbicides reported sales that fell short of Wall Street's expectations and posted a wider loss. Monsanto's stock lost $2.05 to $88.51.

In other trading, the Standard & Poor's 500 index rose three points to 1,448 while the Nasdaq composite index rose 10 points to 3,130.

Best Buy jumped 3 percent on reports that the company's founder has teamed up with a group of private equity firms to take over the electronics chain. The stock rose 52 cents to $17.48.

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A private survey of payrolls showed U.S. companies added more jobs than economists had forecast last month. The payment processor ADP said Wednesday that companies put 162,000 more workers on their payrolls last month. That's still below August's total of 189,000, and not likely enough to put a dent in the 8.1 percent employment rate.

Investors are looking ahead to the government's monthly jobs report Friday and a new round of quarterly earnings next week.

Economists expect the unemployment rate edged up to 8.2 percent in September from 8.1 percent in August.

The U.S. corporate earnings season begins next Tuesday when the aluminum company Alcoa releases its results.

The Dow and the S&P 500 have crept higher in the first week of October. The Dow is up 0.1 percent and the S&P 500 is up 0.2 percent.