U.S. stocks closed off session highs on Wednesday as a renewed decline in oil and disappointment on Disney earnings pressured stocks, amid mixed signals on the timing of an interest rate hike. ( Tweet This )
"I think there are really two things going on," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank. "One is there's a growing sense the Fed doesn't know what it's going to do. They're going to take it as it comes. The other thing holding back investors incrementally is we have a jobs report Friday."
Stocks attempted mild gains after coming off highs as oil reversed to fall more than 1 percent lower. Energy was one of two lagging sectors in the S&P 500, while Chevron added to Disney's pressure on the Dow.
"As oil turned lower, so did the market," said Paul Nolte, portfolio manager at Kingsview Asset Management.
Crude oil settled down 59 cents at $45.15 a barrel, setting a fresh post-March low. Gasoline inventories rose, while crude stockpiles declined more than expected.
The Nasdaq Composite ended about 0.7 percent higher, trimming an earlier 1 percent jump from a reversal in Apple and surge in Netflix. The Dow Jones industrial average failed to hold higher in the close, giving back the morning's 100-point gain.
Apple closed up nearly 0.7 percent, bucking initial losses of 2 percent and two days of declines that plunged the stock into correction territory.
On Wednesday, Bank of America/Merrill Lynch cut its rating on the stock to "neutral" from "buy," saying iPhone growth is decelerating and that Apple Watch, Apple Pay, and Apple Music will take time to ramp up.
Jim Moran, general partner at North Bridge Venture Partners and Growth Equity, is still bullish on Apple. He said the firm also faces some near-term headwinds from lack of success in Apple TV and noted that the stock usually dips after reporting earnings.
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"Apple stopped going down. It's up today," said James Meyer, chief investment officer at Tower Bridge Advisors. "It's more a relief rally than anything else."
"There's a lot of news that will allow people to fester and there's not a lot of real bright sunny stories to tell that will make people excited," he said.
Shares of Disney plunged more than 9 percent after missing on revenue in its earnings report after the close Tuesday. The stock was the greatest blue chip decliner, weighing about 70 points on the index.
Disney had a solid run up to its earnings report, with 17 percent gains year-to-date.