Stocks ended mixed after trading in a tight range for most of the session Wednesday as continued uncertainties with the global economy weighed on investors, ahead of General Motors highly anticipated initial public offering.
TheDow Jones Industrial Average fell 15.62 points, or 0.1 percent, to close at 11,007.88. Home Depot and Bank of America fell, while McDonald's and Travelersrose.
The S&P 500 gained 0.25 points, or 0.02 percent, to close at 1,178.59 and the Nasdaq gained 6.17 points, or 0.3 percent, to close at 2,476.01. The CBOE Volatility Index, widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, fell to below 22, after reaching a one-and-a-half month high on Tuesday.
Among key S&P sectors financials, telecom and materials fell, while consumer discretionary stocks rose.
Trading on Wednesday was lackluster after the previous session's selloffas investors awaited more information out of Europe and more clarity on the future direction of U.S. tax and regulatory policy out of Washington.
The European Commission, International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank were sending a team to Ireland Thursday to determine what Ireland would need if were to seek help. The euro rose from a seven-week lowagainst the dollar.
European shares finished higher after declines in the previous session, but concerns over the Irish debt crisis were lingering. Meanwhile, the European Union will deliver its next aid package for Greece on time, said European Union Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn. Austrian Finance Minister Josef Proell had said earlier the aid wouldn't be released until January.
According to Brian Battle, a director at Performance Trust Capital Partners, the market has already baked in good news about earnings and Fed policy, and now, investors need more clarity about Europe, China and the direction Washington will take with Republicans in control of the House, before moving higher.
If Republicans show they are willing to compromise on one of the first orders of business—the Bush-era tax cuts—that would show they are willing to compromise on other tax and regulatory measures and "compromise is bad news for business," Battle said. So far, the message from leaders in Washington is mixed.
"With these mixed signals coming out of Washington, you don’t commit," Battle said. The current environment is "great for trading and good for speculators," but "it's an awful time to be an investor."
More retailers reported strong earnings before the bell this morning, sending shares higher.
Target climbed after the retail giant posted a higher profitand forecast the best same-store sales in three years for the current period covering the key holiday season.
Also, BJ's Wholesale advanced after the retailer's earnings topped forecasts to report a 32 percent jump in earnings on stronger sales.
Chico's rose after reporting stronger-than-expected revenues thanks largely to improved sales for trendier fashions at his White House/Black Market chain for the third quarter.
Limited Brands will report earnings after the close Wednesday, while Sears , Staples and Gamestop are slated to report before-the-bell Thursday.
Gamestop soared after Credit Suisse raised the video game retailer to "outperform" from "neutral."
Baidu , Ctrip and Sina also rose after Stifel Nicolaus began to cover the Internet services companies with "buy" ratings.
In addition, Qualcomm shares jumped more than 3 percent after the tech giant said chip inventory levels are lower than usual, reassuring investors who were worried about the prospects for overstocking of chips in the wireless market.
However, financials were mostly lower. JPMorgan Chase fell after news the bank was working with regulators and state attorneys general to resolve inquiries into foreclosure practices for the industry, according to CFO Doug Braunstein.
The bank is one of several being investigated. Bank of America and Wells Fargo also slipped.
Meanwhile, regionals were also in the red, including Regions Financial and Suntrust . KeyCorp also fell after Credit Suisse cut its rating on the bank to "neutral" from "outperform."
Merck gained after news that a drug developed by the pharmaceutical company to boost good cholesterol levels met its safety goals in a study that will be presented to the American Heart Association's annual meeting.
Human Genome Sciences fell while GlaxoSmithKline rose after news the FDA Panel approved a drug the companies developed to treat lupus.
Avanir Pharmaceuticals fell after news the drug company plans to sell more stock.
American Axle & Manufacturing jumped more than 6 percent after JPMorgan raised its rating on the firm to "overweight" from "neutral."
Solar stocks were hit after Credit Suisse downgraded the sector to "market weight," saying there is more supply than demand for solar power. Specifically, the brokerage cut First Solar , GT Solar , ReneSola and Trina Solar to "neutral" from "outperform."
On the consolidated New York Stock Exchange, 3.9 billion shares traded. On the NYSE floor, only 955 million shares changed hands. Advancers outpaced decliners about 3 to 2.
Oil prices dipped to $80.44 a barrelin choppy trading after a government report said the nation's domestic crude oil stocks fell sharply against an expectation of a slight rise.
Investors are awaiting a massive stock offering from General Motors. The automaker confirmed it willincrease the size of its initial public offering by 30 percent.
The IPO, set to be the largest in U.S. history if the automaker manages to raise the expected $22.4 billion, will be priced after 4 p.m. Wednesday.
In the day's economic news, data on consumer prices confirmed the Fed's concerns with inflation, as the reading for the core consumer price index was the smallest year-on-year increase on record, according to the Labor Department.
The October CPI rose 0.2 percent, less than expected, after a 0.1 rise in September, but core CPI remained unchanged. The annual increase in the core CPI of 0.6 percent was the smallest since records started in 1957, the Labor Department said.
Meanwhile, housing starts hit an 18-month lowin October, falling 11.7 percent to a 519,000 annual rate from a 588,000 in September. The slide reflected a slowdown in building multi-unit homes, according to the Commerce Department.
And U.S. mortgage applications fell to their lowest level in four months last week as loans rates increased, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association.
Shares of homebuilders were mostly in the red, with Pulte and D.R. Horton among those that fell. Pulte shares hit a 52-week low.
On Tap This Week:
WEDNESDAY: GM IPO pricing; Earnings from Applied Materials.
THURSDAY: Weekly jobless claims, leading indicators, Philadelphia Fed survey, Cisco shareholder meeting; Earnings from Sears, Gamestop, Staples, Dell and Gap.
FRIDAY: Bernanke speaks at ECB Central Banking Conference, Harry Potter movie premieres; Earnings from Heinz.
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