The stock market had another listless session Wednesday as investors weighed manufacturing data for clues whether the Federal Reserve will move to stimulate the economy.
More than two stocks advanced for each declining on U.S. exchanges, yet major indexes were mixed. The Standard & Poor's 500 index increased 1.60 points, or 0.1%, to 1405.53. The Dow Jones industrial average slipped 7.36 points, or 0.1%, to 13,164.78. The Nasdaq composite index added 13.95 points, or 0.5%, to 3030.93.
"You're getting back-and-forth data that sometimes confirm the potential for QE3, like (Wednesday), and (Tuesday) brings it into question," says Andrew Slimmon, managing director of global investment solutions at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, referring to another round of Fed stimulus known as quantitative easing. "There is going to be no other expected major news between now and when the Fed meets on Aug. 31. There will be a lot of conjecture back and forth about what they are going to do."
Industrial production in the U.S. increased in July, Fed data showed Wednesday, propelled by a pickup in motor vehicle output and a rebound in utility use during the hottest month on record. A separate report showed manufacturing in the New York area unexpectedly contracted in August for the first time since October.
The S&P 500 slipped less than 0.1% Tuesday as a slump in technology and financial shares reversed an earlier rally amid better-than-estimated retail sales. Intraday price swings in the benchmark index narrowed to a daily average of 0.7% from Aug. 6 through Tuesday, the smallest fluctuation over a comparable period since January 2011, Bloomberg data show.
The benchmark index has fluctuated around 1400 for the past six sessions, with U.S. stock trading volume reaching the lowest level since at least 2008 (excluding holidays) and volatility sliding to a five-year low. "With the volume so light, it doesn't take much to get a movement in either direction," says Scott Armiger, money manager at Christiana Trust. "The market just seems to be resisting all the worries here."
Trading has slowed as vacationing traders awaited policy clues from the Fed's summit at the end of the month and the European Central Bank meeting in September. The index has rebounded about 10% from a five-month low on June 1 amid speculation global central banks will introduce further stimulus measures. The Fed will hold off from a third round of bond buying in September amid better economic figures, Goldman Sachs said Wednesday.
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