Stock edged higher on Wednesday after data from China and Boeing provided temporary relief to a slumping market, following a retreat Tuesday when the Dow Jones industrial average suffered its biggest drop in four months.
The S&P 500 has dropped more than 3 percent over the last four sessions, as weak earnings outlooks and top-line revenue misses by large multinational companies reignited worries about a slowing global economy.
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The China HSBC Flash Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) showed growth shrank for a 12th straight month in October, but output was at a three-month high of 49.1 and order books at their most robust since April, signaling a strengthening recovery.
Boeing Co shares climbed 1.7 percent to $74.08, one of the top gainers on the Dow, after the commercial jet and defense giant reported earnings and raised its full-year 2012 outlook.
That optimistic outlook bucked a recent trend by companies with a large global footprint - including DuPont , United Technologies Corp and 3M Co - of lowering their full-year forecasts.
"At the end of the day - we've been through this for three years - the short term bumps that Bernanke is providing is just a sugar high, and fundamentals matter," said Seth Setrakian, partner and co-head of U.S. equities at First New York Securities in New York.
"He's probably prevented it from being worse but stocks are based on valuation, based on their earnings and projected future business and the economy is slowing and prices are reflecting that."
A total of 43 S&P 500 companies are due to report earnings Wednesday, including Citrix Systems Inc , F5 Networks Inc and Symantec Corp after the close.
The Dow Jones industrial average was up 26.11 points, or 0.20 percent, at 13,128.64. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index added 1.63 points, or 0.12 percent, at 1,414.74. The Nasdaq Composite Index gained 7.59 points, or 0.25 percent, at 2,998.06.
AT&T Inc posted third-quarter revenue that was below analysts' expectations, but its earnings increased from a year earlier. Shares lost 1.1 percent to $34.62.
Dow Chemical Co , the largest chemical maker in the United States, said Tuesday it would cut 5 percent of its workforce and shut 20 plants to counter a slowing global economy. Its shares advanced 5 percent to $29.99.
Facebook Inc surged 22.2 percent to $23.82 after the social networking company grew mobile advertising revenue several times in the third quarter, a much quicker pace than expected.
Healthcare stocks rose, lifted by a 14.7 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 1.5 percent.
But the Dow Jones Transportation average lost 1.1 percent in the wake of results from Norfolk Southern Corp , which said quarterly profit fell on lower shipments of coal and merchandise. Its shares slumped 5.7 percent to $62.23. Shares of C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc fell 2.6 percent to $59.37.
According to Thomson Reuters data through Tuesday, of the 161 companies in the S&P 500 that have posted earnings, 60 percent have beat analysts' estimates. Earnings are expected to decline 2.2 percent compared with the same quarter a year ago.
Financial information firm Markit said its U.S. "flash," or preliminary, Purchasing Managers Index for the manufacturing sector edged up to 51.3 this month from 51.1 in September, but slow growth and economic uncertainty suggested the sector's recent struggles may persist over the final months of 2012.
Data on the housing market showed new U.S. single-family home sales surged in September to their highest level in nearly 2-1/2 years, further evidence the housing market recovery is gaining steam, while house prices rose 0.7 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from July to August.
The Federal Open Market Committee will conclude the second day of a two-day meeting on Wednesday. Analysts and primary dealers expect the FOMC to leave fed funds rate in the current 0.0 percent to 0.25 percent range.
(Editing by Bernadette Baum)