The Dow Jones industrial average finished down 9.63 points, or 0.09%, at 10,529.03. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index added 2.65 points, or 0.24%, to 1,126.33. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index, led by networking, disk drive and computer sectors, added 20.31 points, or 0.62%, to 2,070.07.
Investors, facing new 52-week highs for the Nasdaq and S&P 500 indexes may have been looking for a reason to take pause Wednesday.
The most important data release of the week is the December employment report, due Friday. Meanwhile, on Thursday, investors will get updates on initial jobless claims, wholesale trade and monthly retail sales.
Thursday also kicks off the fourth-quarter earnings season. Dow member Alcoa (AA
) the first to report among blue-chip companies is expected to post a rise in earnings per share to 34 cents, more than double the 16 cents the aluminum company reported in the same period a year ago.
Retailers like Wal-Mart (WMT
), Target (TGT
), and JC Penney (JCP
) will be in the spotlight as industry players provide their key December sales figures.
On Wednesday, Dow member Exxon Mobil (XOM
) moved lower following an analyst report downgrading European oil concerns. Separately, Duke Energy (DUK
) said it will stop its trading and marketing joint venture with Exxon.
), Altria (MO
) and 3M (MMM
) were also Dow losers while Intel (INTC
) gained ground following upbeat analyst reports.
In the tech sector, JDA Software Group (JDAS
) said its fourth-quarter profit be half of what analysts had expected as it failed to sign a number of software license contracts.
) climbed after two broker upgrades. Analysts cited hopes that holiday sales were strong.
Among other stocks in the news, Darden Restaurants (DRI
) slipped after the restaurant chain's chief operating officer resigned abruptly. He had only held the position since September
Struggling electronics retailer Circuit City (CC
) reported a 2% drop in December same-store sales.
Leather goods retailer Coach (COH
) raised its guidance for the fourth quarter above expectations, on strong holiday sales. Coach said sales for the quarter rose 33% to $411 million, above its previous forecast for sales of at least $385 million.
U.S. Treasuries Wednesday ticked higher as demand for the year's first major auction of U.S. government notes was strong, says MMS International, an economic research company. The Treasury sold $16 billion of new five-year notes. Demand came, in part, from foreign central banks.
Data Thursday are light. U.S. Mortgage Applications rose in the week ended January 2, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Its index rose 4.5% to 599.9.
The most anticipated data of the week are December payrolls, due on Friday. Economists are looking for signs of improvement in the unemployment rate, which has been holding stubbornly at 5.9%.
European stocks finished lower amid weakness in oil issues following an analyst downgrade of several companies in the sector. Investors in Europe are also fretting over the rise in value of the euro.
London's Financial Times-Stock Exchange 100 index slid 32.20 points, or 0.71%, at 4,473.00. In Paris, the CAC 40 fell 32.31 points, or 0.90%, at 3,563.51. Germany's DAX index eased 31.04 points, or 0.77%, to 4,004.40.
In Asia, stocks finished mixed. Japan's Nikkei 225 index, fell 56.17 points, or 0.52%, to 10,757.82 amid continued worries over the impact of a strong yen on exporters. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index added 121.36 points, or 0.93%, to close at 13,157.68.