Stocks ended a seesaw day with a modest gain Wednesday after investors found some pluses in retail earnings reports.
The Dow Jones industrial average and other major indexes fluctuated throughout the day before closing with slender gains. There was little news to motivate investors a day after a stream of improving economic numbers restored some of their enthusiasm for stocks and sent the Dow up 103 points. But retailers continued reporting second-quarter earnings and investors found a few positives.
Target Corp. missed analysts' forecasts for its second quarter revenue and offered a muted outlook for sales for the rest of the year. But the company told analysts it hopes to offset weak sales with higher sales of groceries and its new discounts for credit card holders. Target initially fell sharply, then recovered to a healthy advance.
The reports came a day after Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Home Depot Inc. issued numbers that were upbeat. Almost all the big retailers closed higher Wednesday. An exception was BJ's Wholesale Club Inc., which lowered its earnings outlook for the year. Its stock dropped.
Wednesday's trading was muted, and that was to be expected after Tuesday's advance and as the outlook for the economy remained unclear. Traders were weren't about to commit much more money to stocks.
"It was a pretty big rally yesterday so we're just kind of sitting back with no real fundamentals driving us too far either way," said Dan Cook, Chicago-based senior market analyst with brokerage firm IG Markets.
The Dow rose 9.69, or 0.1 percent, to 10,415.54. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 1.62, or 0.2 percent, to 1,094.16. The Nasdaq composite index rose 6.26, or 0.3 percent, to 2,215.70
Gainers were ahead of losers by 3 to 2 on the New York Stock Exchange. Volume was again extremely light, mostly because of vacations, but also because many investors don't have enough of a sense of the economy's strength. That's making them hold off of any major moves. NYSE volume came to 922 million shares.
Treasurys remained a destination for investors seeking a safer place than stocks to put their money. The 10-year Treasury yield fell to 2.63 percent from 2.64 percent late Tuesday.
John Stoltzfus, senior market strategist with Ticonderoga Securities in New York, said the market is becoming increasingly dominated by a "What have you done for me lately?" attitude and responding to daily reports about the economy.
"We live from economic data point to economic data point," he said. "That will probably continue at least until the end of the summer as we wait for some kind of catalyst that would give the market better definition."
BHP Billiton's $38.5 billion takeover offer for fertilizer producer Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan turned hostile Wednesday. Potash had called BHP's offer grossly inadequate. The announcement of the bid and Potash's rejection Tuesday helped feed the rally in stocks. Mergers and acquisitions activity tends to lift the market because it shows investors' confidence in the economy.
Investors were expecting a better offer. Potash rose $4.76, or 3.3 percent, to $147.93.
Target rose $1.27, or 2.5 percent, to $51.95. BJ's fell $1.17, or 2.7 percent, to $42.14.
Overseas, Japan's Nikkei 225 index closed up 0.9 percent. In later European trading, London's FT-SE 100 index fell 0.8 percent. Germany's DAX index fell 0.3 percent, while the CAC-40 index in Paris fell 0.7 percent.