Stocks were little changed on Wednesday, supported by a slight pickup in manufacturing and a surge in new home sales, while Boeing gave the Dow a boost after raising its full-year forecast.
The muted afternoon action suggested the market was attempting to find its footing after a 3.3 percent fall in the S&P 500 over the past four sessions. Weak earnings outlooks and top-line revenue misses from large multinational companies reignited worries about a slowing global economy.
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Boeing's more optimistic outlook bucked the recent string of disappointments from global giants including DuPont , United Technologies Corp and 3M Co , all of which lowered their full-year forecasts.
Investors have focused on weak revenue growth so far this earnings season, said Kate Warne, investment strategist at Edward Jones in St Louis.
"Certainly today we've seen some companies with better earnings, but overall, the trend remains one where investors are cautious," said Warne.
Tech stocks weighed to the downside amid signs businesses were putting off spending because of the uncertain economic outlook. Decliners included network equipment maker Cisco Systems Inc , which was down 2.5 percent at $17.55. Movie rental company Netflix slumped 12.2 percent to $59.93 after it cut its subscriber forecast.
Just 38.2 percent of companies have reported revenue that beat analysts' expectations, while 61.8 percent have fallen short, according to Thomson Reuters data. In a typical quarter, 62 percent of companies beat estimates.
Shares of Boeing pared some earlier gains, rising 0.7 percent to $73.31 after the commercial jet and defense company boosted its forecast for the third time this year.
The Dow Jones industrial average added 26.87 points, or 0.21 percent, to 13,129.40. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index edged up 2.22 points, or 0.16 percent, at 1,415.33. The Nasdaq Composite Index was up 2.49 points, or 0.08 percent, at 2,992.95.
Data suggested economic powerhouse China was slowly recovering from its weakest period of growth in three years. Manufacturing contracted again, but output hit a three-year high and order books were robust.
A preliminary look at U.S. manufacturing showed growth picked up a tad, but weaker overseas demand and uncertain domestic fiscal policy tempered the outlook for the sector.
New home sales surged in September to their highest level in nearly 2-1/2 years, sending housing stocks up 0.7 percent.
Dow Chemical Co , the largest U.S. chemical maker, said late on Tuesday it would cut 5 percent of its workforce and shut 20 plants to counter a slowing global economy. Its shares jumped 5.5 percent to $30.11.
Facebook Inc surged 21.2 percent to $23.64 after the social networking company increased mobile advertising revenue several times in the third quarter, a much quicker pace than expected.
Healthcare stocks rose, lifted by a 10 percent jump in Molina Healthcare Inc after the company posted third-quarter earnings and revenue that exceeded analysts' expectations. The Morgan Stanley healthcare payor index gained 1 percent.
The Federal Open Market Committee will conclude a two-day meeting on Wednesday. Analysts and primary dealers expect the FOMC to leave the benchmark fed funds rate in the current range of zero to 0.25 percent.