U.S. stocks rose on Tuesday after switching direction multiple times during the session, as investors tracked the price of oil and fourth-quarter earnings from corporations including Johnson & Johnson.
"To some extent, investors feel adrift. They took a measure of assurance from the Federal Reserve's guarantee through quantitative easing, and now that that's gone, there are a lot more agitated about the underlying dynamics," Bruce McCain, chief investment strategist at Key Private Bank, said of the market's volatility.
Johnson & Johnson fell after the health-products supplier reported international sales fell about 7 percent in the fourth quarter; Halliburton rose after the oilfield-services supplier reported a quarterly profit that beat estimates ; Delta Air Lines climbed after the carrier posted earnings above estimates; Morgan Stanley dropped after the brokerage tallied earnings below expectations, and FXCM slid after the currency brokerage detailed its rescue loan from Leucadia National.
Crude-oil prices dropped as the International Monetary Fund cut is outlook for global economic growth for 2015 and 2016, projecting growth of 3.5 percent this year and 3.7 percent for next. Both were down 0.3 percentage points from prior estimates.
"The decline in the price of oil is not particularly good news for the global economy," Hugh Johnson, chairman of Hugh Johnson Advisors, said.
"We don't know exactly where oil is going to go, but all capital spending related to the energy sector is going to be very impaired this year," Paul Karos, senior portfolio manager at Whitebox Advisors, said.
The damage extends beyond energy producers to "global companies that have a good percentage of their business tied to it," said Karos, pointing to large global manufacturers of drill bits, pumps and other equipment.
However, earnings and economic reports all take a back seat to the European Central Bank, which is expected to announce a program of government bond purchases, or quantitative easing, on Thursday.
"Beyond the size of the ECB's program, the possible risk sharing, asset quality, and other details will be important to the market reaction," Bill Stone, chief investment strategist at PNC Asset Management Group, noted in emailed commentary.
Read More Market to ECB: Size of QE matters!
The CBOE Volatility Index, a measure of investor uncertainty, fell 5.1 percent to 19.89.