Wall Street eked out a modest advance Tuesday after investors found little motivation in remarks by Federal Reserve officials and also shrugged off a warning from chip maker National Semiconductor Inc.
Major indexes squeaked by with gains after spending most of the session extending Monday’s losses. Investors have been left looking for direction after the Fed held interest rates steady last week, and as corporate earnings season winds down.
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke did not address interest rates when he spoke before the Omaha Chamber of Commerce. Similarly, speeches by two other central bankers and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson also had little news to sway investors.
National Semi warned that sales will fall steeper than expected; the news initially cast a shadow across the market, but by the close of trading, even the tech-dominated Nasdaq composite index had recovered.
“I get the sense investors are waiting to see what the market is going to do next, and aren’t entirely convinced that a slight pullback is going to manifest itself,” said Mike Malone, trading analyst at Cowen & Co. “There really wasn’t any expectation that something would come from Bernanke. But the fact its over leaves investors looking around for what’s next.”
According to preliminary calculations, the Dow rose 4.57, or 0.04 percent, to 12,666.31.
Broader stock indicators finished narrowly higher. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index added 1.01, or 0.07 percent, to 1,448.00, and the Nasdaq rose 0.89, or 0.04 percent, to 2,471.49.
Stocks got some support from a decline in bond yields as fixed-income investors place bets on where interest rates are headed. The bond market had hoped to glean more from speeches by Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.
The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note fell to 4.77 percent from 4.81 percent late Monday. The dollar was lower against other major currencies, while gold prices advanced.
Oil prices continued to climb on concerns that a blast of arctic weather in the Midwest and Northeast might linger, and drive up demand for heating fuel. A barrel of light sweet crude rose 14 cents to $58.88 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
A jump in demand could lead to higher energy costs, but also greater profits for energy producers. However, any benefit to big oil companies was offset by disappointing results from BP PLC.
Britain’s biggest refiner fell 54 cents to $63.25 after reporting fourth-quarter profit slipped 22 percent, and slashed its growth targets for this year. Anadarko Petroleum Corp. shares fell 48 cents to $42.47 after it said fourth-quarter profit doubled due to a one-time gain on the sale of a Canadian unit.
Exxon Mobil Corp., a component of the Dow Jones industrials, fell 21 cents to $75.46, while Chevron Corp. shed 41 cents to $73.37.
Matt Kelmon, portfolio manager of the Kelmoore Strategy Funds, said investors will be looking at further fluctuations in the energy sector as one way the market might pick a direction. He also said there will be continued scrutiny over corporate earnings, although many major companies have already reported.
“The market is not expensive, it’s not dirt cheap, and the catalyst over the past few weeks has been earnings,” he said. “Everything is really on hold until the market finds something else to talk about, but there’s still no huge sign of an imminent pullback.”
Technology stocks were among the market’s biggest decliners, led by the semiconductor sector. National Semi fell 64 cents, or 2.8 percent, to $22.68 after it predicted lower-than-expected sales in the third quarter because of lower shipments to the Asia Pacific region.
Rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc. fell 28 cents to $15.32, while Texas Instruments Inc. shed 37 cents to $31.22. Intel Corp., the worlds largest chip maker for personal computers, rose 3 cents to $21.31.
In other corporate news, Avon Products Inc. rose $3.38, or 9.8 percent, to $38 after the maker of beauty products said its fourth-quarter profit edged up from a year ago as the company struggled with restructuring costs.
McClatchy Co., the nation’s second-largest newspaper publisher, rose 53 cents to $39.29 after its operating earnings surpassed Wall Street projections.
Las Vegas Sands Corp. fell $3.41, or 3.3 percent to $100.68 after the casino company reported fourth-quarter profit was boosted by an unexpected $30 million gain from its high-rollers table.
Advancing issues outnumbered advancers by about 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.47 billion shares.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 3.34, or 0.41 percent, to 810.03. The index surpassed 800 for the first time last week, and reached an all-time high of 810.49 in the previous session.
Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average closed up 0.36 percent. At the close, Britain’s FTSE 100 was up 0.45 percent, Germany’s DAX index added 0.02 percent, and France’s CAC-40 fell 0.08 percent.