NEW YORK – Wall Street edged up on Thursday, retreating from session highs as investors were wary of betting aggressively after the S&P 500's worst five-day stretch since May and the data sent more tepid signals on the economy.
Business investment showed signs of stalling in September, while overall U.S. durable goods orders rose more than expected, though orders excluding volatile defense goods and aircraft were unchanged.
Shares of Dow component Procter & Gamble stood out, gaining 3.4 percent to $70.41 after the world's largest household products maker reported a better-than-expected profit. That was enough to inspire some early buying across the market, but the gains had faded by late morning.
The broad S&P 500 fell more than 3 percent over the last five sessions following a weak string of corporate earnings.
"It's a sloppy market," said Gordon Charlop, a managing director at Rosenblatt Securities, in New York. He added that he didn't have "any sense of impending doom."
The Dow Jones industrial average edged up 10.79 points, or 0.08 percent, to 13,088.13. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index gained 3.32 points, or 0.24 percent, to 1,412.07. The Nasdaq Composite Index rose 2.94 points, or 0.10 percent, to 2,984.63.
The S&P telecom sector index slipped 0.3 percent, with AT&T shedding 0.6 percent to $34.50.
Among tech stocks, Apple lost 1.1 percent to $609.80 ahead of results expected after the closing bell.
Of the 244 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported results, 62.3 percent have beaten expectations, slightly better than the 62 percent that typically exceed estimates, according to Thomson Reuters data. But revenue remained disappointing, with just 36.3 percent of companies reporting higher-than-expected revenue - compared with a historic beat rate of 62 percent.
The benchmark Standard & Poor's 500 Index lost 3.6 percent over the previous five sessions - its worst performance since mid-May. The broad index is down 3.7 percent from its closing high of September 14, following weak earnings outlooks and top-line revenue misses by large multinational companies.
Earnings season overall has shown domestic companies beating profit forecasts, while global companies have reported lighter revenue, said Quincy Krosby, market strategist at Prudential Financial in Newark, New Jersey.
Given the euro zone's debt problems and China's slower growth, "it shouldn't be a surprise that it was going to hit earnings season," Krosby said.
China's factory output should grow faster in the last three months of 2012 than in the third quarter, the country's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said, though the recovery remains clouded by uncertainty in export markets.
(Additional reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Jan Paschal)