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Stocks meander on mixed bag of corporate earnings 

Stocks finished mixed on Wednesday as Wall Street found little clarity in quarterly results from companies including Texas Instruments, Norfolk Southern and IBM.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 41 points, with IBM pacing losses. But the S&P 500 gained just over 1 point and the Nasdaq rose 17 points.

"At the beginning of the week, we knew there was not going to be any data really, so you had to focus attention elsewhere. Even the currency traders were looking at the U.S. earnings story for direction on the economy," said Chris Gaffney, senior market strategist, EverBank. But the results are a "mixed bag; it is hard to read what we're seeing right now," he added.

IBM shares fell over 3 percent after the Dow component reported adjusted fourth-quarter earnings that topped expectations, but revenue that missed. But Texas Instruments gained almost 2 percent after saying it would eliminate 1,100 jobs in the United States, India and Japan, becoming the second major U.S. chip manufacturer to announce employee reductions in a week. United Technologies gained after the maker of elevators and air conditioners reported a rise in fourth-quarter profit that beat estimates.

Wall Street is "now back to the old normal," noted Gaffney, referring to the trend of companies missing revenue estimates but beating on earnings, mainly due to cost cutting.

Advanced Micro Devices slumped nearly 12 percent after the maker of personal-computer processors forecast first-quarter revenue that disappointed investors. BlackBerry jumped 8 percent after the embattled smartphone maker said it would sell much of its Canadian real estate. 

Norfolk Southern reported better-than-expected earnings, with shares of the railroad company jumping 4.7 percent. Apple shares were modestly higher after Carol Icahn lashed out against the iPhone maker over his desire that the company boost its share buybacks. The activist investor also tweeted that he had upped his stake in Apple.

The dollar edged higher against the currencies of major U.S. trading partners. The 10-year Treasury note yield rose 2 basis points to 2.861 percent.

The cost of crude rose $1.76, or 1.8 percent, to $96.73 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, where gold futures fell $3.20, or 0.3 percent, to $1,238.60 an ounce.

"Why isn't the market continuing to scale new heights on almost a daily basis the way it did late last year? Everyone seems recently to have concluded that stocks aren't cheap," Ed Yardeni, chief investment strategist at Yardini Research, noted in emailed commentary.