NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The benchmark U.S. stock indices turned positive Wednesday afternoon, following a rocky morning trading session. Still, investors were mostly sitting on the sidelines awaiting the government nonfarm payrolls report on Friday and bracing for the European Central Bank's next policy move.
The ECB on Thursday is widely expected to cut benchmark interest rates into the negative for the first time. Wednesday's weak, first-quarter euro-area economic growth data is expected to increase pressure on central bankers to step in and do something to combat a protracted period of low inflation that's threatening to derail the region's fragile recovery.
For Friday, economists are expecting a decline in the U.S. government jobs report to 218,000 jobs created in May from 288,000 added in April. The ADP Employment Change Index on Wednesday showed that the U.S. private sector added 179,000 jobs in May, which was below the forecast of 210,000 jobs and the April figure of 220,000.
The S&P 500 turned higher, up 0.2% to 1,928.05. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was adding 0.08% to 16,735.73. The Nasdaq was rising 0.47% to 4,253.90.
The DAX in Germany closed up 0.07% and the FTSE in London slid 0.25%. Asian markets finished mixed as the Nikkei climbed 0.22% and the Hong Kong Hang Seng fell 0.6%.
The trade balance for April was weaker than expected, with the deficit widening to $47.2 billion. U.S. productivity fell at an annualized rate of 3.2% in the first quarter, faster than the consensus decline of 3%.
The ISM Services Index for May registered 56.3, the best reading since August 2013. The figure is an improvement from the 55.2 posted in April. Any figure above 50 indicates expansion.
The Federal Reserve's "Beige Book" will be released at 2 p.m. EDT.
Several stocks were capturing investors' attention. Tesla (TSLA - Get Report) was down 0.44% to $204.04 after Elon Musk said Tuesday at the electric carmaker's annual shareholder meeting that he would remain as CEO for at least another four to five years. Japanese insurer Dai-ichi Life Insurance reached an agreement to acquire Protective Life (PL) for $5.7 billion. Protective Life was surging 18.1% to $69.34. NRG Energy (NRG) was trading incrementally higher after it agreed to pay $870 million to acquire the Alta Wind Energy Center, the largest wind farm in North America. UnitedHealth Group (UNH - Get Report) was climbing 0.41% after raising its quarterly dividend by 34% to 37.5 cents a share and after its board authorized the repurchase of 100 million shares.
-- By Andrea Tse and Joe Deaux in New York