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Stocks Mixed in Choppy Session as Market Awaits Earnings Season

NEW YORK ( The Street) -- Major U.S. markets closed mixed as investors awaited the earnings season to kick off.

The S&P 500 settled up 0.03% to 1,838.13, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average was 0.11% lower at 16,444.76. The Nasdaq slid 0.23% to 4,156.19.

  • "The market is becalmed before earnings ... like a sailing ship at sea with no breeze," Lawrence Creatura, portfolio manager at Federated Investors, said in a phone interview. "I think it's reasonable to expect continued growth."
  • Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY) tumbled 12.5% after it projected earnings that missed estimates. Family Dollar Stores (FDO) and L Brands (LB) fell 2.2% and 4.1% respectively after cutting profit forecasting. Deep discounting failed to help lift December sales for these retailers. Meanwhile, Macy's (M - Get Report) and Costco (COST) jumped after the former's job cut announcement and the latter's robust same-store sales report. Macy's shares ended 7.7% higher at $55.81, while Costco was up 3.9% to $118.51. 
  • Alcoa (AA) and World Alumina agreed to pay $384 million to the U.S. Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission to settle bribery allegations linked to a contract with Bahrain's aluminum smelter. Alcoa shares closed 1.4% lower at $10.68. The company reported an adjusted profit of 4 cents a share on revenue of $5.59 billion. Wall Street forecast earnings of 6 cents a share on $5.34 billion.
  • The European Central Bank and Bank of England both left their key interest rates unchanged at current record low levels. 
  • U.S. weekly initial jobless claims for the week of Jan. 4 fell to 330,000, beating expectations of 335,000. Meanwhile job cuts fell to the lowest level of the year in December, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Generally, expectations for Friday's December government job report have been rising especially after ADP private payroll employment data for December beat estimates on Wednesday.
  • Eurozone economic sentiment improved to a 21/2-year high in December, according to the European Commission. German industrial production increased by a greater than expected 1.9% in November.
  • Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank President Narayana Kocherlakota is set to participate in a public town hall meeting in Minneapolis at 8 p.m. 
  • The Nikkei closed off 1.50% while the Hang Seng finished 0.91% lower. Germany's DAX was falling 0.46% while the London FTSE was 0.55% lower. 
-- By Jane Searle and Joe Deaux in New York

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