US stocks make small gains after listless day of trading
US stocks perked up after a downbeat start to eke out a small gain on Wednesday.
Consumer companies were among the big gainers on a day when investors sized up a mixed bag of new data on the US manufacturing, housing and automobile industries. Telecommunications stocks lagged the rest of the market.
Investors have been looking for clues in the latest economic figures to gauge the likelihood that the Federal Reserve will raise its key interest rate at the central bank's next meeting of policymakers later this month.
"The market is in a holding pattern," said Quincy Krosby, market strategist at Prudential Financial.
"Everything now is being viewed via the eye of the Fed in order to ascertain whether and if we get a rate hike this summer."
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 2.47 points, or 0.01%, to 17,789.67. The Standard & Poor's 500 index added 2.37 points, or 0.1%, to 2,099.33. The index remains within 2% of its all-time high set in May 2015.
The Nasdaq composite index gained 4.20 points, or 0.1%, to 4,952.25.
The latest gains helped nudge the Dow and S&P 500 higher for the year. The Dow is up 2.1%, while the S&P 500 is up 2.7%. The Nasdaq is off 1.1%.
The major stock indexes opened lower on Wednesday, echoing a slide in markets in Europe and Asia as traders considered new reports on China's manufacturing sector, including one suggesting a weaker outlook for the nation's factories.
Investors also got an early look a mix of new US data. The Commerce Department said construction spending fell in April by the biggest amount in five years, dragged down by declines in housing, commercial construction and spending on government projects.
Separately, car shopping site Kelly Blue Book projected that US auto sales slumped 7% in May, usually one of the strongest months of the year for the US auto industry. The drop is the biggest monthly sales decline since August 2010.
Most major automakers reported lower sales in May compared to the same month a year ago, including General Motors and Ford Motors. Shares in GM lost 1.06 dollars, or 3.4%, to 30.22 dollars, while Ford slid 38 cents, or 2.8%, to 13.11 dollars.
Auto dealership chain CarMax also took a hit, dropping 1.57 dollars, or about 3%, to 52.09 dollars.
Investors' outlook perked up by late afternoon around the time when the Federal Reserve released its latest Beige Book, a snapshot of the US economy that the central bank's policymakers use to inform their actions.
Another key factor: the government's next monthly update on nonfarm hiring, due out Friday.
"It's been a mixed picture, but with enough elements in the picture to keep the Fed in play to raise rates," Mr Krosby said.