Stocks were mixed as the closing bell neared, with the tech-heavy Nasdaq slumping, as the prospect of the Federal Reserve resuming Treasury purchases to boost the economy countered a disappointing report on private sector hiring.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose more than 15 points after moving between positive and negative territory for most of the day. Wednesday's meek performance comes a day after all the major indexes rallied, putting the Dow is within striking distance of 11,000 for the first time since May.
General Electric and Alcoa rose, while Bank of America and AT&T fell.
The S&P 500 fell slightly, while the Nasdaq fell nearly 1 percent. The CBOE Volatility Index, widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, rose above 21.
Among key S&P 500 sectors, energy, industrials and materials rose, while telecom and techs fell.
"Stocks seem to be taking the (employment) data more or less in stride," said Craig Peckham, equity product strategist at Jefferies. "The marketplace is increasing its bet on additional monetary policy easing, particularly quantitative easing."
What is doing best are "hard asset plays," like gold and materials stocks, including Freeport-McMoRan and U.S. Steel.
Gold, meanwhile, continued its record run, rising as high as nearly $1,350 an ounce, before slipping back slightly, while copper prices hit a two-year high, boosted in part by a weaker dollar.
"In a world where there is a concern about the pace and slope of economic recovery, that could trigger more central bank policy easing, it's logical for investors to be deploying capital to assets that are more inflation protected," Peckham said.
Investors may just be taking a breather following the sharp rise in the previous session and ahead of economic reports later this week, particularly the September non-farm payrolls release on Friday, said Dan Cook, senior market analyst at IG Markets.
While the prospects of Fed action are priced into the market to some extent, Cook said a jobs number that is worse than expected would likely cause the market to rally further after an initial drop on the news.
In technology news, shares of Verizon rose after a report that Apple plans to mass produce an iPhone at the end of this year that would use CDMA technology, according to the Wall Street Journal. That would enable Verizon to sell the smartphone, ending AT&T's exclusive relationship with the popular phone. AT&T's shares sank after the news. Qualcomm is providing a key chip for the phone, the Journal said. A Verizon official said the company had "no comment" on the report.
Shares of Equinix plunged more than 30 percent after the telecommunications company said it cut its revenue targets for the third quarter and the full year due to heavy discounting and lower revenues from its Switch and Data business. Several brokerages cut their price target for Equinix.
Citrix Systems, a computer software firm, also slumped to the bottom of the Nasdaq Composite.
Semiconductor stocks were hit as well, after Morgan Stanley cut Altera and Xilinx to "underweight" from "equalweight," due to slowing orders out of Asia. Both companies are involved in the wireless infrastructure markets. Chip companies in other businesses were also weak, including Nvidia and Fairchild Semiconductor .
And Texas Instruments slid even after Credit Suisse raises its price target to $35 from $32.
Several other tech stocks posted big losses, including Salesforce , Akamai Technologies , Red Hat and NetApp .
Motorola announced that Verizon would sell the Droid Pro, a business-oriented phone with corporate-level security features that's based on the Google's Android operating system.