Investors weighed mixed results from Wal-Mart stores, Home Depot and other big U.S. retailers, as well as new data on inflation. Energy stocks were among the biggest decliners as oil prices closed lower.
“You saw oil prices come down, and the market has been following oil prices,” said Quincy Krosby, market strategist at Prudential Financial. “The market moved up handsomely yesterday, so we’re not losing all of the gains.”
The Dow Jones industrial average added 6.49 points, or 0.04 percent, to 17,489.50. Earlier, the average had been up more than 116 points.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 index lost 2.75 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,050.44. The index had briefly moved into positive territory for the year. The Nasdaq composite gained 1.40 points, or 0.03 percent, to 4,986.01.
Major stock indexes wavered for much of the morning as investors sorted through the latest company earnings and a batch of economic reports. Traders pushed stocks higher by midday and for much of the afternoon until the final hour of trading, when the rally evaporated.
Investors, who have been worried that sales could be weak in the end-of-year shopping season, sold retailers that reported disappointing quarterly results.
Urban Outfitters fell 3.8 percent after the retailer’s latest quarterly sales fell short. The stock dropped 87 cents to $21.80. Dick’s Sporting Goods slumped 9.4 percent after reporting worse-than-expected results and giving a weak outlook. The stock fell $3.85 to $36.96.
Other big retailers fared better.
Wal-Mart Stores rose 3.5 percent after the company reported improved customer traffic and an increase in a key sales figure for the third quarter, even as a stronger dollar pressured its performance overseas. The world’s largest retailer also issued a forecast for the end-of-year shopping season that largely beat Wall Street expectations. The stock added $2.05 to $59.92.
Home Depot climbed 4.4 percent after the home-improvement retailer reported better-than-expected third-quarter earnings and revenue, and delivered an upbeat fiscal outlook. The stock rose $5.34 to $126.18.
Traders also had their eye on economic reports. The Labor Department reported that the consumer price index rose 0.2 percent in October after falling the prior two months.
The small uptick in inflation could increase the likelihood that the Federal Reserve will begin raising short-term interest rates from historic lows as early as next month, said David Chalupnik, head of equities at Nuveen Asset Management.
“Historically, hiking interest rates would not be good for the stock market, but at this point it’s a psychological boost that the economy is self-sustaining enough that the Fed could get off the zero interest rate policy,” Chalupnik said.
The energy sector shed 1.2 percent, extending its losses this year to 15.9 percent. The sector — the S&P 500 index’s biggest decliner for the year — has been hurt by the protracted slide in oil prices.
That decline resumed on Tuesday. Benchmark U.S. crude oil dropped $1.07 to close at $40.67 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell 99 cents to close at $43.57 a barrel in London.
Wholesale gasoline was little changed at $1.238 a gallon, heating oil lost 1.7 cents to $1.368 a gallon and natural gas fell 1.4 cents to $2.371 per 1,000 cubic feet.
European indexes moved higher, thanks partly to a report showing that business optimism in Germany rose more than analysts had expected this month amid strong domestic demand and a weaker euro. Germany’s DAX rose 2.4 percent, while France’s CAC 40 jumped 2.8 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 2 percent.
Precious and industrial metals prices closed lower. Gold fell $15 to $1,068.60 an ounce, silver declined five cents to $14.17 an ounce and copper gave up one cent to close at $2.10 a pound.
U.S. government bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.26 percent from 2.27 percent. The dollar rose to 123.41 yen from 123.26 yen, while the euro fell to $1.0644 from $1.0678.