US Markets

Stocks hold steady at close; S&P settles at record


U.S. stocks closed little changed on Thursday, with the S&P 500 at another record, as investors considered mostly upbeat earnings from companies including Ford Motor and Facebook and mixed economic reports.

"There are two arguments, one is the pessimistic one that says we have to have a correction because we haven't had one for a long time and that valuations are stretched, and then the bullish argument is we're experiencing an improving economy and corporate profits are decent, so how this plays out is anyone's guess," said Martin Leclerc, chief investment officer at Barrack yard Advisors.

That said, "just because we haven't had one doesn't mean we have to have one now," he added of the idea a pullback is imminent.

"Last year, the market fluctuated on what Washington was doing, this year, it's focused on fundamentals, and earnings are great and employment is slowly improving, especially in the unskilled areas," said Frank Fantozzi, president and CEO of Planned Financial Services in Cleveland, Ohio.

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"We have 70 to 72 percent meeting or beating on not just earnings but sales, so it's a very good quarter," Fantozzi added of second-quarter results from S&P 500 companies.

Facebook climbed to a record after the social network trounced estimates for quarterly profit and revenue; Ford shares rose after the auto manufacturer reported second-quarter results. Caterpillar shares fell after the maker of earth-moving machinery reported a second-quarter earnings beat, but fell short on revenue.

Read MoreCaterpillar sees Q2 earnings beat, but revenue disappoints

General Motors shares fell after the car maker reported a lower-than-expected second-quarter profit, and Wal-Mart Stores slid after the discount retailer said CEO Bill Simon would leave the company.

Read MoreMidday movers: AT&T, Caterpillar, Facebook & More

Major U.S. Indexes

After wavering on either side of neutral, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 2.83 points at 17,083.80, with Caterpillar leading blue-chip losses.

The edged up nearly 1 point to end at 1,987.98, its 27th record close this year, with consumer staples and utilities the best performing and industrials and telecommunications the worst among the index's 10 major sectors.

The Nasdaq ended nearly 2 points lower at 4,472.11.

For every seven stocks rising, roughly eight fell on the New York Stock Exchange, where nearly 632 million shares traded. Composite volume exceeded 3.1 billion.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, gold futures for August delivery fell $13.90, or 1.1 percent, to $1,290.80 an ounce, and crude futures dropped rose to $104.42.

The dollar gained against the currencies of major U.S. trading partners and the 10-year Treasury yield used to determine mortgage rates and other consumer loans rose 3 basis points to 2.501 percent.

For every seven shares rising, eight fell on the New York Stock Exchange, where 588 million shares traded just before close. Composite volume approached 3.1 billion.

"The market rally is narrowing and may be ready for perhaps a 2-to-4 percent pullback," Elliot Spar, market strategist at Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, emailed in an afternoon note.

Q2 earnings scorecard... so far

Thursday's economic reports included Commerce Department figures showing sales of new homes fell 8.1 percent in June.

"It's certainly not interest rates or affordability, but we have disappointing home sales for June," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities of data that had new-home sales hitting a less-than-expected 406,000 in June.

A separate government report had jobless claims coming in at 284,000 last week, less than the 308,000 estimated by analysts.

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"The net is this number in improving; the four-week average went down by 7,000 to 302,000. That smooths out some of the summer volatility and is a significant positive," Hogan said.

Read MoreNew home sales throw cold water on jobless party

On Wednesday, stocks mostly rose, with the S&P 500 closing at a record for a 26th time this year, as investors weighed earnings from companies including Boeing and Apple.

Read MoreStocks mostly up on earnings; record close for S&P

Eric Thayer | Stringer | Getty Images