Stocks staggered to a mixed finish Wednesday as lower-than-expected manufacturing activity and rising oil prices chilled an early rally, but technology shares posted a modest advance.
Oil prices settled higher for the first time in seven sessions. Government data showed a steep drop in U.S. oil inventories last week as imports fell and refiners continued to operate at unusually high rates.
The major indexes sank at midday on reports of a possible terror attack in Washington. The market stabilized after it became clear the incident stemmed from the accidental release of pepper spray in a restaurant near the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, which are under heightened alert. Still, Wall Street never fully regained its earlier momentum.
"When you combine the rise in oil prices with the false-alarm bioterrorist alert, both of those events really took the steam out of the market," said Michael Sheldon, chief market strategist at Spencer Clarke.
The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 5.46, or 0.1 percent, at 10,168.46. The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index rose 1.67, or 0.2 percent, to 1105.91. The tech-focused Nasdaq composite index gained 12.31, or 0.7 percent, to 1850.41.
With trading light, as it has been all week because of the Republican National Convention and the upcoming Labor Day holiday, the markets were slow to react to the Institute for Supply Management's manufacturing index for August. Manufacturing activity rose for the 15th consecutive month, suggesting healthy activity in the sector, but the reading of 59 was three points lower than the one recorded for July, and fell short of economists' expectations.
Sagging monthly sales figures from the nation's two largest automakers offered little encouragement. General Motors fell 10 cents, to $41.21, and Ford Motor declined 21 cents, to $13.90, after the companies said production cuts could dent fourth-quarter profits.
Intel's mid-quarter report was expected to highlight what's ahead for the tech sector. While there has been some concern that a negative outlook from the chipmaker would weigh heavily on tech shares, a round of analyst downgrades and lowered forecasts spurred speculative buying, leading analysts to surmise that investors may have already factored in a mediocre forecast. Intel ended the day up 14 cents, at $21.43.
Among other chip stocks, Fairchild Semiconductor International rose 3.7 percent, or 45 cents, to $12.78, and Teradyne gained 3 percent, or 38 cents, to $13.25.
August sales reports are expected Thursday from the nation's largest retailers. Among those reporting early, Wendy's International gained 89 cents, to $35.26, after posting strong sales despite 100 temporary restaurant closures due to Hurricane Charley and other storms.
* The New York Stock Exchange composite index rose 15.64, to 6469.86; the American Stock Exchange index rose 5.02, to 1237.43; and the Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks rose 4.53, to 552.46.
* Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones by 5 to 3 on the NYSE, where trading volume rose to 1.14 billion shares, from 1.13 billion on Tuesday. On the Nasdaq Stock Market, advancers outnumbered decliners by 3 to 2 and volume totaled 1.41 billion, up from 1.27 billion.
* The price of the Treasury's 10-year note was unchanged, and its yield remained at 4.12 percent.
* The dollar rose against the Japanese yen and fell against the euro. In late New York trading, a dollar bought 109.43 yen, up from 109.25 late Tuesday, and a euro bought $1.2191, up from $1.2174.
* Light, sweet crude oil for October delivery settled at $44.00, up $1.88, on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
* Gold for current delivery fell to $408.80 a troy ounce, from $410.40 on Tuesday, on the New York Mercantile Exchange's Commodity Exchange.