Stocks Flat as CIT, Banks Put Stop to Rally

Stocks struggled for direction as a handful of mostly weak earnings reports led to caution on Wall Street.

Investors weighed earnings against jobless claims data that showed a bigger-than-expected decreasethat was mitigated by auto layoffs that were much less than typical for this time of year.

Major indexes stayed stubbornly around the breakeven point with the tech-laden Nasdaq the strongest of the group. An afternoon reading showing homebuilder sentiment at its strongest point in 10 months did little to move the maretks.

On the earnings front, JP Morgan reported second-quarter earnings of $2.7 billion, or 28 cents per shareon revenue of $28 billion. Investors focused, though, on credit quality concerns and sent shares lower.

Also in financials, CIT Group says talks with the government about possible aid for the troubled commercial lender have ended, and CNBC reported a Chapter 11 filing is likely by Friday. Shares were getting crushed.

Banks were broadly lower after sparking Monday's rally, with the SPDR Financial ETF falling more than 1 percent.

Shipping companies did well after FedEx said it was taking cost-cutting measures to head off an expected weak level of demand for the remainder of the year. The Dow Jones US Delivery Services Index rose 1.5 percent.

Metals and mining along with coal stocks also were among the market's strongest performers while hotels were the big losers percentage-wise as they the group gave back some gains from earlier in the week.

In deal news, Mosaic shares leaped more than 10 percent on a newspaper report that the fertilizer company might get bought by Brazil's Vale.

Nokia earnings also soured investors as the company beat estimates but cut its outlook for second-half profit.

Marriott dropped as well after it said net income fell 76 percent in the second quarter.

And Harley-Davidson disappointed Wall Street when it reported that earnings fell 91 percent and the company would have to lay off 1,000 workers and cut shipments. Investors, though, gave the company a vote of confidence for its cost-cutting measures.

Disney led gainers on the Dow industrials after Bernstein upgraded the entertainment giant to "outperform." Alcoa also was among the index's leaders while Bank of America was the weakest of the bluechips.

Wednesday's strong rally put Wall Street in territory it hadn't seen in quite a while: the Nasdaq finished at its highest since Oct. 6, while the Dow and the Nasdaq had their biggest one-day percentage gains since April 9.

Generally, volatility continues to get sapped from the market.

The Chicago Board Options Exchange's Volatility Index that measures expected changes in the S&P 500 was falling toward 25, while the Oil VIX dropped below 46.

Oil, which has been a fairly accurate proxy for stock market movement, was down a few pennies as US light, sweet crude stood above $61 a barrel.

The Nasdaq is now riding a six-session winning streak during which it's gained 6.7 percent, and it now leads the major averages with a year-to-date gain of 18.1 percent.

IBM and Google lead the list of companies set to report earnings after the closing bell this afternoon.

Market breadth was negative, with losers edging out gainers. Volume was light, with about 555 million shares changing hands by 1:30 pm.