U.S. stocks fell mildly on Wednesday, with the S&P 500 finishing the session near unchanged, as a better-than-expected report on the service sector helped neutralize another that had companies adding slightly fewer employees to their payrolls than anticipated in January.
"Basically we're trading off the loss of the last couple of weeks. We had modest economic numbers and earnings, but I don't see anything moving the market with any conviction. Yesterday we were up with a technical bounce, and today we're just trying to see how things develop," said Stephen Carl, head equity trader at the Williams Capital Group.
Private employers added 175,000 jobs in January, slightly below the gain of 180,000 estimated by analysts. December's increase in jobs was revised lower to 227,000 from an initial 238,000. The report comes two days before the government's nonfarm payroll report, a gauge that includes public and private-sector employment.
The Institute for Supply Management's non-manufacturing index for January came in at 54.0, showing expansion at a more rapid rate in January.
"In front of the nonfarm payroll report on Friday, the solid ADP number as well as the employment component should ease some of the worst worries regarding job growth although uncertainty remains elevated," Dan Greenhaus, chief global strategist at BTIG.