Dow Struggles to Hold Gains as Materials Shares Weigh

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Sinking materials shares, like aluminum giant Alcoa, weighed heavily on Wall Street on Wednesday, causing the blue chips to shed triple-digit gains.

Today's Markets

As of 10:33 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 5.2 points, or 0.05%, to 11,198, the S&P 500 fell 3.9 points, or 0.33%, to 1,171 and the Nasdaq Composite slipped 8 points, or 0.33%, to 2,538.

The Dow has soared 457 points, or 4.3%, in the last three trading sessions alone, the best three-day performance in a month, and a stark contrast from the deep losses sustained last week.

The European sovereign debt crisis has captivated the markets over the past two weeks as small developments on that front have often caused wild swings in stock prices both domestically and abroad.  The worry among analysts has been that if Greece, which has nearly half a trillion dollars in public debt, were to default, it could ignite a cascading financial event not unlike the Lehman Brother bankruptcy, potentially harming an already weak global financial system.

However, this week, the European Union and International Monetary Fund have cautiously signaled that they are taking steps to make sure the Mediterranean country gets a round of rescue aid due in October before it runs out of cash to service its debt.  In fact, Greece's parliament Tuesday passed a highly-unpopular property tax increase that was seen as a crucial measure in securing bailout funds.

The EU said Wednesday it plans on sending inspectors to Athens next week to continue negotiations on the bailout, according to a report by Reuters.

The global economy has also been a major concern among market participants, and is expected to take the spotlight again on Wednesday.

Traders shrugged off a slightly disappointing durable goods orders report, which showed orders falling 0.1% in August from July, compared with estimates for no change, and a 4.1% jump in July. Excluding the transportation component, orders were down 0.1%, also worse than calls for no change. The auto parts segment took an 8.5% drop, the worst since February 2010.

Orders for long-lasting goods are seen as an important barometer of performance across many business sectors, from technology companies like IBM (NYSE:IBM) to conglomerates like General Electric (NYSE:GE). These data also factor into broader measures of economic expansion.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is also expected to make a speech in Cleveland after the closing bell. While the Fed chief isn't forecast to give any direction on monetary policy, economists will be looking for clues as to what the central bank's next move may be.

It's been a wild ride in commodities markets over the past two weeks.  Gold snapped a four-day, 12%, losing streak Tuesday, leaping 3.7% on the day.  The precious metal moved higher by 90 cents, or 0.05%, to $1,654 a troy ounce in early trade.

Energy markets were lower after a mixed weekly inventory report from the Energy Department.  Oil inventories were up 1.9 million barrels, a much bigger build than the 800,000 analysts anticipated.  Gasoline stocks, meanwhile, rose 791,000 barrels, short of the million barrel build forecast.

Light, sweet crude fell $1.30, or 1.6%, to $83.14 a barrel.  Wholesale RBOB gasoline slipped 2 cents, or 0.65%, to $2.68 a gallon.

In currencies, the euro gained 0.4% on the U.S. dollar, while the greenback dipped 0.43% against a basket of world currencies.

Treasury yields have staged a strong comeback after sinking last week as traders raced out of equity and commodities markets.  The benchmark 10-year Treasury note is yielding 1.98% from 1.971%.

Foreign Markets 

The euro zone blue chip Euro Stoxx 50 dipped 0.24% to 2,189, the English FTSE 100 fell 0.58% to 5,263 and the German DAX rose 0.04% to 5,630.

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 rose 0.07% to 8,616 and the Chinese Hang Seng fell 0.66% to 18,011.