NEW YORK U.S. stocks were little changed near five-year highs on Tuesday as investors held back from making large bets ahead of earnings from key tech companies.
Both the Dow and S&P 500 closed at their highest levels so far in this earnings season, with the gains largely coming on better-than-expected results. But despite bullish statements from major companies, many investors are worried economic uncertainty in the fourth quarter hurt earnings and revenues.
Weaker-than-expected economic data had little impact on stocks. Existing-home sales unexpectedly fell in December, dropping 1 percent, according to the National Association of Realtors. Analysts were looking for a rise of 1.2 percent.
Recently Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and Intel Corp (INTC.O) gave weak outlooks, calling the tech sector' outlook into question. Three tech companies are due to report after the market's close: Google Inc (GOOG.O), International Business Machines (IBM.N) and Texas Instruments (TXN.O).
"Markets are quiet today with many investors taking a wait-and-see approach to tonight's tech earnings," said Douglas DePietro, managing director at Evercore Partners in New York. "There's still room for us to rise from here, but right now most of the action is in specific stocks."
Four Dow components reported early on Tuesday, and three rose on the results. Insurer Travelers Cos (TRV.N) was the stand-out, climbing 3.4 percent to $78.90 as the S&P 500's biggest percentage gainer after it forecast higher premiums across its business.
DuPont (DD.N), the largest U.S. chemical company by market capitalization, reported revenue that was ahead of Wall Street expectations, while Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N) also posted revenue that beat forecasts.
Shares of DuPont were up 0.6 percent at $47.24 while Verizon rose 0.3 percent to $42.67.
On the downside, Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N), the diversified health company, fell 0.5 percent to $72.87 after forecasting 2013 earnings below expectations.
The Dow Jones industrial average was down 6.07 points, or 0.04 percent, at 13,643.63. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was down 1.56 points, or 0.10 percent, at 1,484.42. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 2.52 points, or 0.08 percent, at 3,132.19.
Monday was a market holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the United States. President Barack Obama at his inauguration for a second term on Monday called for aggressive action on climate change, economic equality and the federal budget.
Markets have recently been pressured by uncertainty stemming from Washington about the federal debt limit and spending cuts that could hamper U.S. growth.
Republican leaders in the House of Representatives said they aim to pass on Wednesday a nearly four-month extension of the U.S. debt limit, allowing the government to borrow enough to meet its obligations during that period.
Overall, S&P 500 fourth-quarter earnings rose 2.5 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data.
U.S. shares of Research in Motion RIMM.O RIM.TO jumped 8.2 percent to $17.13 a day after its chief executive said the company may consider strategic alliances with other companies after the launch of devices powered by RIM's new BlackBerry 10 operating system.
(Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Kenneth Barry)
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With the Nifty breaching 8,500, sentiments are again bullish. But markets have been in the 8,200-8,600 range for some time and stocks across the board do not give the required confidence except for the liquidity factor. Many frontline stocks are not participating on the upside and the core sector is in a downtrend, writes Ambareesh Baliga. Column