U.S. stocks closed mostly lower on Wednesday, with energy weighing, as oil prices fell sharply despite bullish inventories data.
"I think the market is trying to process the big question that we all have, and no, it's not the Fed," said Kim Forrest, senior equity analyst at Fort Pitt Capital. "The big question is: Is the economy getting better? We don't know."
The Dow Jones industrial average closed about 30 points lower, erasing earlier gains, with IBM contributing the most losses. At session highs, the Dow had risen 96.73 points. The S&P 500 fell less than 0.1 percent, as energy dropped more than 1 percent.
"Obviously, the market doesn't like uncertainty on any level," said Leslie Thompson, managing principal at Spectrum Management Group. "I think it's going to be hard for the market to move higher in the near term against this backdrop."
The Nasdaq outperformed, gaining approximately 0.3 percent as Apple and the iShares Nasdaq Biotechnology ETF (IBB) rose 3.6 percent and 1.2 percent, respectively. Apple posted its best day since July 27 and hit a nine-month high.
Stocks hit session highs after the Energy Information Administration said U.S. oil inventories fell by about 600,000 barrels last week, also sending oil into positive territory for a moment. Oil failed to hold those gains, as WTI settled 2.94 percent lower, at $43.58 per barrel.
Wednesday gains in stocks came a day after a broad-based sell-off in which equities, bonds, oil and gold all fell. "That's very typical of the beginning of a correction. As investors start realizing this is the real thing, you'll see more money flowing into traditional safe havens," said Chuck Self, CIO at iSectors. "Today could be a pause."
"You have a lot of confusion from investors," said Adam Sarhan, CEO at Sarhan Capital. "After a very quiet summer, you're seeing volatility expand in conjunction with uncertainty."
The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, rose 17.74 percent to 17.85 on Tuesday, but traded 1.18 percent lower on Wednesday.