U.S. stocks ended little changed on Wednesday, with the S&P 500 holding steady near a two-month low, as investors sorted through developments in Ukraine and considered two derailed deals.
Sprint declined after the wireless carrier retreated from its offer for T-Mobile US after two months of lobbying failed to clear regulatory hurdles; Twenty-First Century Fox gained after rescinding its $80 billion bid to purchase Time Warner. Walgreen fell after the drugstore chain said it would not use its acquisition of Europe's Alliance Boots to move its headquarters overseas.
"There are a lot of investors who still need to make up that exposure from their short fall last year, who come in and buy any dip aggressively," said Joe Peta, managing director at Novus Partners.
"I think we'll hit new highs before we hit an actual 10 percent correction. From talking to investors over the last week, I've never heard so many people already positioned for a sell off that hadn't occurred yet," Peta added.
Strategists said technical factors were in play, with the S&P 500 holding 1,920 at Tuesday's close seen as bullish, as well as Wednesday's testing and bouncing back off of the prior session's intraday low of 1,913.
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Equities offered little reaction to a report from the Commerce Department, which said the nation's trade deficit narrowed more than expected in June, suggesting trade was less of a drag on second-quarter economic growth than previously thought. Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan hiked their prior and current-quarter growth expectations on the heels of the report.
"Investors are trying to coordinate the fear of geopolitical concerns and how they affect the global economy with the improving U.S. economy and how that affects Fed monetary policy," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities.
After a 57-point drop and 61-point rise, the Dow Jones Industrial Average added 13.87 points, or 0.1 percent, to 16,443.34, with Procter & Gamble leading blue-chip gains that included 18 of 30 components.
The held steady at 1,920.24, with consumer staples the best performing and telecommunications falling the most among its 10 main sectors.
The Nasdaq gained 2.22 points, or less-than 0.1 percent, at 4,335.05.
The CBOE Volatility Index, a measure of investor uncertainty, fell 3 percent to 16.37.
For every two shares falling, three gained on the New York Stock Exchange, where nearly 691 million shares traded. Composite volume cleared 3.5 billion.
"Either Israel Hamas or Russia Ukraine could turn ugly at any minute, but unfortunately, the geopolitical situations dominate for 24 hours, and then if nothing changes, tend to fade to the back burner," said JJ Kinahan, chief strategist at TD Ameritrade.
"People are hedging themselves in case the situation worsens," said Kinahan, pointing to Wednesday's rise in Treasury prices and gold costs.
Gold futures for December delivery rose $22.90, or 1.8 percent, to $1,308.20 an ounce. Investors also sought safety in U.S. Treasuries, with the yield on the 10-year note falling 2 basis points to 2.466 percent.
Europe's economic data on Wednesday showed Italy falling back into recession, and German factory orders declining 3.2 percent in June from the month before, with the disappointing numbers illustrating the impact of sanctions against Russia, a major trading partner for Germany.
Russia President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday moved to ban agricultural and food products from nations that have enacted or backed sanctions against Russia.
On Tuesday, U.S. stocks declined sharply, more than wiping out the prior day's gains, with traders citing uncertainty about the tension between Russia and Ukraine and concerns that the strengthening economy will lead to higher interest rates.
—By CNBC's Kate Gibson
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