The S&P 500 hovered near the unchanged mark on Tuesday, buoyed by gains in energy and materials as soft economic data weakened the dollar, giving commodities support.
The greenback fell after orders for long-lasting U.S. manufactured goods rebounded far less than expected in March as demand for cars, computers and appliances slumped. Consumers appeared a bit pessimistic on the economy's short-term outlook and sent a measure of confidence lower.
The data came as Federal Reserve officials started a two-day policy meeting. Policymakers are expected to hold interest rates steady but may be more upbeat on the economic outlook, leaving the path open for future rate hikes.
"Commodities and oil are up, the dollar trending lower, the things that started this rally are still there but there's a pause on temporary uncertainties," said Jim Paulsen, chief investment officer at Wells Capital Management in Minneapolis.
"Technical resistance, weaker data, uncertainty about the Fed, weak earnings numbers are giving people pause."
He said it is encouraging for market bulls that the S&P is holding near the record high it set almost a year ago after a 15 percent rally from the lows in February.
The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI was down 18.52 points, or 0.1 percent, to 17,958.72, the S&P 500 .SPX had lost 0.08 points, or 0 percent, to 2,087.71 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC had dropped 17.01 points, or 0.35 percent, to 4,878.78.
The S&P 500 has ended little changed since last Thursday, with sector gains and losses hinging on the direction of oil prices for the day. The energy sector .SPNY, up 1.2 percent, was posting the most gains on Tuesday, tracking a 3 percent increase in the price of U.S crude futures CLc1.
Apple (AAPL.O) was expected to report its first quarterly revenue decline in 13 years after the closing bell. Its stock, the heaviest weight on the S&P and the Nasdaq 100, is seen moving 4.7 percent in any direction by Friday as foreshadowed by activity in the options market. Shares were down 0.8 percent at $104.23.
AT&T (T.N) and eBay (EBAY.O) were among the many others due to report after the market close.
First-quarter earnings from S&P 500 components are expected to have fallen 7.1 percent from a year earlier, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Of the 166 companies that have reported, 59 percent reported revenue above analyst expectations, just short of the average 60 percent since 2002.
DuPont (DD.N) rose 2.5 percent to $67.59 as the largest gainer on the Dow industrials after it said it is aiming to buy back $2 billion in shares this year.
Dow components 3M (MMM.N) and Procter & Gamble (PG.N) were down 2.3 percent and 1.5 percent respectively after reporting declining sales.
Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a ratio of 3-to-1 and on the Nasdaq a 1.55-to-1 ratio favoured advancers.
The S&P 500 posted 17 new 52-week highs and 1 new low; the Nasdaq recorded 54 new highs and 22 new lows.
(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)
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