Stocks wobbled in and out of positive territory Wednesday, settling near unchanged levels as the market shrugged off a pair of economic reports that suggested continued strength in the recovery.
A surge in manufacturing activity and better-than-expected data on housing construction failed to impress investors, who are preoccupied with two events expected at the end of the month: an interest rate hike and the transition of political power in Iraq. Analysts say the markets are likely to lurch sideways in the meantime, as investors wait to see what will happen.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 0.85, or 0.008 percent, to 10,379.58. The broader gauges finished narrowly higher. The Nasdaq composite index gained 2.63, or 0.1 percent, to 1998.23. The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index rose 1.55, or 0.1 percent, to 1133.56.
There was fresh evidence that the recovery of manufacturers is on track, as the Federal Reserve reported a 1.1 percent rise in big industry production for May, the strongest showing in nearly six years. Economists had forecast a 0.6 percent rise.
Separately, the Commerce Department reported builders broke ground on fewer housing projects in May, but the level of activity was still brisk enough to exceed expectations. Total housing permits -- a good barometer of current demand -- were up 3.5 percent at 2.01 million units, the highest level in more than three decades.
Concern over oil prices was renewed after a sabotage attack in Iraq. Analysts worry there could be more attacks as the U.S.-led coalition prepares to transfer political power to local authorities.
Delta Air Lines fell 24 cents, to $5.71, after chief executive Gerald Grinstein told analysts the carrier must cut costs to survive, saying he won't accept a new contract with pilots unless it includes all the cuts he wants.
Oracle fell 36 cents, to $11.35, a day after the world's second-largest software maker posted its sixth straight quarter of double-digit earnings growth on a steady rise in technology spending. The results beat analysts' per-share expectations by a penny, but there was some disappointment over a dip in Oracle's licensing of business applications software.
Bear Stearns rose 72 cents, to $80.15, after reporting a sharp rise in second-quarter earnings, beating Wall Street estimates by a wide margin. However, the brokerage warned that federal regulators are considering taking action over its mutual fund trading practices.
* The New York Stock Exchange composite index fell 50.66, to 6535.37; the American Stock Exchange index rose 5.17, to 1206.10; and the Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks rose 2.15, to 570.07.
* Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones by 7 to 6 on the NYSE, where trading volume fell to 1.17 billion shares, from 1.34 billion on Tuesday. On the Nasdaq Stock Market, advancers outnumbered decliners by 6 to 5 and volume totaled 1.33 billion, down from 1.51 billion.
* The price of the Treasury's 10-year note fell $3.13 per $1,000 invested, and its yield rose to 4.72 percent, from 4.68 percent on Tuesday.
* The dollar rose against the Japanese yen and the euro. In late New York trading, a dollar bought 110.04 yen, up from 109.34 late Tuesday, and a euro bought $1.2003, down from $1.2165.
* Light, sweet crude oil for July delivery settled at $37.32, up 13 cents, on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
* Gold for current delivery fell to $384.60 a troy ounce, from $388.10 on Tuesday, on the New York Mercantile Exchange's Commodity Exchange.