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Stocks Pare Losses; Exxon, Chevron Fall

Stocks pared losses Wednesday, with tech-heavy Nasdaq and the S&P 500 up slightly, after a mixed batch of earnings releases, and a day after a strong rally.

The Dow Jones Industrial Averageshaved much of an early downdraft and was down just over 5 points, with Exxon, Chevron and American Express leading the blue-chip index lower. Home Depot and Bank of America rose.

The S&P 500and the Nasdaqwere lower. The CBOE Volatility Index, widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, rose above 24.

Steel stocks were moving mostly higher Wednesday, a day after a strong report on factory orders. A rumor that Arcelor Mittal plans to acquire U.S. Steel also may be a factor, with U.S. Steel up more than 5 percent.

Earnings releases were mixed Wednesday. Deere reported better-than-expected quarterly results, thanks to strong sales for tractors and harvesters in the U.S. The agricultural equipment maker said sales should rise 5 to 10 percent this year in the U.S. and Canada, but business in Europe will continue to be weak.

Earlier, Target posted strong quarterly earningsof $679 million, or 92 cents a share, from $594 million, or 79 cents a share, a year earlier. The figures were in line with expectations, and reflected a boost in sales of profitable items like clothing, and improvement in its credit card business.

BJ's Wholesale Club , however, reported profits of $35.8 million, or 67 cents a share, in the second quarter, up from $35.1 million, or 64 cents a share a year ago, but below expectations. The big-box retailer also gave a grimmer outlookfor its full-year results.

Semiconductor-equipment maker Applied Materials and retailer Limited Brands will report earnings after the bell.

A government report showed a decrease in oil inventories for the week ended Aug. 13. Crude for September delivery fell 1.7 percent to $74.55 a barrel. The Energy Information Administration said oil inventories slipped by 800,000 barrels, less than forecasted. The data follows Tuesday's report from the American Petroleum Institute, which showed a surprisingly large build in supplies.

U.S. crude oil futuresprices pared losses after the report.

Among technology stocks, Dell was slightly higher after shareholders gave CEO and chairman Michael Dell the fewest number of votes while electing him to the board of the computer maker he founded. In a regulatory filing, Dell said 25.1 percent of the votes withheld their support in vote at the company annual meeting on Aug 12.

Tech stocks were mostly up Wednesday led by Analog Devices. The microchip maker posted a better-than-expected profit for the quarter on Tuesday and issued a positive outlook for the fourth quarter.

In merger and acquisition news, mining giant BHP Billiton's$38.6 billion bid for Potash became hostile, following its board's election of BHP's initial offer as "grossly inadequate."

General Motors could file to sell its shares to the public Wednesday in an offering that will allow the automaker to pay back some of its government bailout dollars. GM is reportedly planning to list on the New York Stock Exchange and the Toronto Stock Exchange, according to Reuters.

European shares edged lower with oil firms leading the declines on concerns over the strength of U.S. crude demand and excess supply. Asian indexes ended mixed with China slipping into the red.

On The Calendar:

THURSDAY: Jobless claims, leading indicators, Philadelphia Fed survey; earnings after the bell from HP, Dell, Gap and Intuit
FRIDAY: No major events scheduled

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