Investors remained cautious for the third day in a row, finding no motivation for buying stocks in the index of leading economic indicators or the jobs and inflation reports issued today.
The Dow Jones industrial average and the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index wiggled around in the same limited range they have traded in all week. The Dow ended the session off 2 points at 10,377.52. The S&P slipped a point and a half to 1,132.03.
The Nasdaq Stock Market composite index fell 14.5 points to 1,983.67, a slide that Nasdaq watchers blamed on weakness in computer and chip stocks.
But at the same time, Microsoft Inc. was the day's biggest winner among the 30 Dow Jones stocks.
Diagnosing what is moving the market has been difficult this week because the indexes have barely budged. In the past three days, the S&P has gone from 1,132 to 1,133 and back again, while the Dow has moved 3 points in two days.
The oil market on the other hand has made a sharp U-turn, moving higher for the second day in a row in response to terrorist attacks that have halted crude oil exports from Iraq.
Until Wednesday, crude oil prices had been coming down, but their recent spike to record levels was reflected in today's producer price index report, which showed an increase of 0.8 percent in May, the biggest bump in more than 12 months.
The producer price index is up 5 percent in the past 12 months -- the fastest rise in any 12-month period since 1990 -- which to Wall Street means that higher interest rates are ahead.
Although Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan reassured Congress this week that inflation is moderate enough that the Fed can raise rates slowly, the threat of higher rates is believed to be one factor holding back the stock market.
The index of leading indicators, which is supposed to predict where the economy is headed in the next three to six months, rose 0.5 percent in May. That, too, is regarded on Wall Street as an indictor of higher rates ahead and another reason to be cautious about buying stocks.