Stocks wiped out most of the session's losses to finish flat in choppy trading Wednesday, but gains were limited by weakness in techs and as investors were reluctant to jump in following recent rallies that propelled major averages to five-year highs.
"I think [the market] has gotten ahead of itself and it's tired. It needs to consolidate," said Kenny Polcari, director at O'Neil Securities.
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The Dow Jones Industrial Average eked out a gain of 7.22 points to finish at 13,986.52, led by 3M. Merck led the blue-chip laggards.
The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, closed below 14.
Among key S&P sectors, telecoms led the gainers, while techs finished in the red.
Widely-followed mutual fund manager Bill Miller said Apple could be worth 50 percent more if it were to keep its $137 billion on balance sheet and just put future free cash flows into dividends, according to an interview with the Financial Times. Meanwhile, speculations continued about a possible share buyback or a dividend increase. Shares initially popped following the news, but eventually shaved their gains to close lower.
Boise Cascade surged nearly 25 percent in its market debut on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol "BCC." The pulp and paper company priced its IPO at $21 a share.
With no major economic reports on the calendar and a recent rally that propelled the Dow near the widely-watched 14,000 level and the S&P 500 above 1,500, traders and investors searched for the next catalyst that could further fuel the market.
"Corporate earnings in that case are likely to be the main focus for investors searching for catalysts," Ishaq Siddiqi, a market strategist at ETX Capital said in a morning note.
Among earnings, Disney gained after the media conglomerate posted quarterly results that exceeded Wall Street's expectations amid strong revenue growth in its media networks business and its theme parks. At least two brokerages raised their price target on the company.
Time Warner also climbed after the media company topped earnings expectations as cable network growth offset declines in film, TV, and publishing. The company also boosted its quarterly dividend by 11 percent.
Ralph Lauren jumped after the apparel retailer posted holiday quarter sales and earnings that showed improvement, thanks to strength in the Americas and Europe.
C.H. Robinson tumbled sharply to lead the S&P 500 laggards after the multimodal transportation services company posted lower-than-expected earnings. In addition, Jefferies lowered its price target on the stock.
CVS posted a quarterly profit that beat estimates and lifted its earnings forecast for the year on improved revenue growth from pharmacy services and retail drugstores. Still, shares closed in the red.
So far, 301 S&P 500 firms have reported this quarter, with 69 percent of companies exceeding earnings expectations and 66 percent topping revenue estimates, according to Thomson Reuters. If all remaining firms post earnings in line with forecasts, earnings will be up 4.7 percent from last year's fourth-quarter.
European stocks closed at two-month lows as investors took a breather following the previous session's recovery rally, with euro zone banks lower amid renewed concerns over the health of the region's economy and worries over the political uncertainty in Spain and Italy.
Read More: Expect Long-Term Damage in Spain: JPMorgan)
Meanwhile, Asian markets rallied, with Japanese stocks climbing to their highest in nearly five years on hopes of central bank monetary policy easing and optimism about the prospects for a global economic recovery.
Weekly mortgage applications gained last week even as interest rates climbed, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.
—By CNBC's JeeYeon Park (Follow JeeYeon on Twitter: @JeeYeonParkCNBC)
Coming Up This Week:
THURSDAY: Bank of England announcement, ECB announcement, jobless claims, productivity and costs, consumer credit, Fed balance sheet/money supply, chain-store sales; Earnings from Credit Suisse, Philip Morris, Sony, Cigna, Noble Energy, Sprint, NYTimes, Activision Blizzard, Hasbro, LinkedIn, Coinstar, Opentable
FRIDAY: International trade, wholesale trade, monthly crop report; Earnings from Nissan, Moody's
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