NEW YORK – Stocks ended an erratic session mixed Tuesday as investors weighed slightly higher oil prices against strong earnings from companies including Verizon Communications Inc. and Texas Instruments Inc.
The major indexes wavered throughout the day as investors tracked fluctuations in crude oil futures, which settled at $59.12 a barrel, up 20 cents, on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Rising oil prices, which could lead to lower consumer spending and declining corporate earnings, have shadowed stocks for months and distracted investors Tuesday from the current crop of upbeat earnings reports.
Wall Street also reacted strongly to any company news that strayed from expectations. Investors punished chemical maker DuPont Co. because its sales fell below forecasts, but bid up Lockheed Martin Corp., the nation’s biggest defense contractor, whose forecast for the year was above expectations.
“The market’s being very selective about who they reward and who they punish,” said Tobias Levkovich, chief U.S. equity strategist at Citigroup. “If a company comes through and literally trounces the numbers, the stock gets a positive reaction. … If it isn’t perfect, they beat them up.”
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 16.71, or 0.16 percent, to 10,579.77.
Broader stock indicators were higher. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 2.13, or 0.17 percent, to 1,231.16, and the Nasdaq composite index rose 9.25, or 0.43 percent, to 2,175.99.
Bonds were higher, with the yield on the 10-year Treasury falling to 4.23 percent from 4.25 percent late Monday. The U.S. dollar was up against the euro. Gold prices were flat.
The stock market isn’t reacting to solid earnings because “there’s much more discounting of risk than there has been in the past; the risk of higher oil prices, the risk of higher interest rates,” said Hans F. Olsen, managing director and chief investment officer at Bingham Legg Advisers, a private wealth management firm in Boston. “This has been buffeting the stock market for the better part of the year.”
Michael Strauss, chief economist at Commonfund, which manages about $34 billion for nonprofit institutions, said, “It doesn’t look like earnings have the huge upside surprise to catapult the market higher. At the same time, the earnings are there, so it’s hard to get any type of sustainable weakness either; hence, the continuation of a very narrow trading range with a slight upside bias.”
Stocks also stumbled in early trading after Chinese officials suggested last week’s revaluation of the yuan may have been an isolated step. After the revaluation, the Chinese currency will be pegged to a basket of currency instead of being pegged solely to the dollar, but investors hope Chinese central bankers will eventually allow the yuan to float, which could make Chinese goods look like less of a bargain compared to products made in America.
Americans’ faith in the economy as measured by The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index edged lower in July following three months of gains. Lynn Franco, director of the organization’s Consumer Research Center, said the dip, to 103.2 from June’s reading of 106.2, was “no cause for concern.”