Wall Street struggled back from disappointing economic data today but still failed to get anywhere.
The markets lost their early momentum about two hours into the trading session when the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia issued a disappointing report on manufacturing business in its region.
Economists who track that Philly Fed report had expected to see a slowdown, but the retreat was far worse than anticipated. The news sent the Dow Jones industrial average, which had been up about 30 points in the morning, down about 40 points below the opening mark. It made its way back to positive territory but couldn't find a way to get a serious rally going.
Other economic reports out today also failed to give investors much reason for buying stocks.
The Conference Board's index of leading economic indicators ticked up by 0.1 percent in April, which was just one-eighth of what it had gained the previous month.
The weekly report on new applications for jobless benefits also was a disappointment, showing the lines at the unemployment office grew for the second week in a row to 345,000.
Because the count of people applying for benefits varies so much from week to week, economists prefer to look at the average for the past four weeks -- that tally continued to improve, falling to 333,000.
By themselves, today's reports should have relieved worries about inflation and rising interest rates, because they showed the economy struggling rather than surging. But Wall Street has already decided that the Federal Reserve is on the verge of raising interest rates and today's reports weren't weak enough to change that judgment.
Traders did have reason to feel a little better about another worry -- energy prices. Both crude oil and gasoline futures pulled back a bit today in anticipation of an Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries meeting coming up this weekend. Influential OPEC leaders are urging members to pump more oil so prices don't keep going up and cause economic damage.
The Dow ended the day down a tiny fraction at 9,937.64.
The Nasdaq composite index was off just under 2 points at 1,896.59.
The Standard & Poor's 500 stock index was up half a point at 1,089.18.