Stocks ended mixed as the Dow and the S&P 500 posted moderate losses, falling for a third straight session, while tech stocks lifted the Nasdaq, as investors kept their attention on the events unfolding in the Middle East.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 37.28 points, or 0.31 percent, to close at 12,068.50, after falling more than 100 points earlier in the session. The blue-chip index sank 107 points amid spreading unrest in the Middle Easton Wednesday.
Hewlett-Packard and Travelers led Dow decliners, while General Electric and Boeingled gainers.
The S&P 500 fell 1.30 points, or 0.1 percent, to close at 1,306.10. But the tech-heavy Nasdaq brought some positive news, rising 14.91 points, or 0.5 percent, to close at 2,737.90. The CBOE Volatility Index, widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, fell more than 4 percent, below 21, after posting strong gains over the previous two sessions.
Among key S&P 500 sectors, energy, materials and consumer staples fell, while consumer discretionary and technology rose.
Stock bounced off the lows of the day as the price of U.S. light crude fell, closing at $97.28 a barrelamid unconfirmed rumorsthat Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was shot. However, U.S. officials said they have no reason to believe Gaddafi is dead. Earlier, oil prices had traded near $100 a barrel; London Brent crude gave up gains and closed slightly higher at $111.36 a barrel. Prices also eased after news Saudia Arabia was in talks with Europeanrefiners to cover any shortfall caused by the Libyan turmoil.
The energy sector led market declines much of the session, largely weighed down by the refiners. Halliburton , Schlumberger and Transocean were among the top laggards.
Gold, meanwhile, settled above $1,415 an ounce, but then traded lower. The dollar fell slightly against a basket of currencies.
Despite a spate of economic news, including a surprising drop in jobless claims, traders are focusing on Libya, said Todd Schoenberger, managing director at LandColt Trading.
"People are worried, just because of that uncertainty factor," Schoenberger said. "Things seem to be escalating. Where does this end? There are deep concerns there."