Updated from 9:40 a.m. EST

Stocks in New York were rising from early lows to trade near the baseline Wednesday, as traders eyed the prospect of a bailout for the automakers and appeared to shrug off an array of disheartening economic reports.

The

Dow Jones Industrial Average

was down 5.5 points at 8414, and the

S&P 500

was gaining 1.8 points to 851. The

Nasdaq

tacked on 17 points to 1446.

Traders were closely watching the automotive sector as the

Big Three U.S. car manufacturers

continued to petition Congress for emergency funds.

Ford

(F) - Get Report

and

General Motors

(GM) - Get Report

on Tuesday had presented business plans to Congress in hopes of garnering a federal bailout. General Motors asked for $12 billion in low-interest financing and a $6 billion line of credit, and Ford requested $9 billion in government aid.

GM and Chrysler also said they would need $4 billion and $7 billion respectively just to make it to the end of 2008.

Toyota

(TM) - Get Report

, meanwhile, announced it would cut production in December and reduce managers' winter bonuses as it copes with the economic downturn.

The day's economic data offered little in the way of encouraging surprises.

November employment figures

from Automatic Data Processing showed that 250,000 jobs had been lost that month, more than the 205,000 anticipated by economists. The October unemployment figure was revised to 179,000 from 157,000.

Revised third-quarter productivity numbers from the Department of Labor showed a 1.3% reading, above consensus estimates of 0.9% and up from 1.1% in the second quarter.

A November non-manufacturing index from the Institute for Supply Management registered at 37.3, substantially below analysts' prediction of 42 and down from 44.4 in October. The

Federal Reserve's

so-called beige book of anecdotal economic reports is due out later today.

Numerous companies on Wednesday announced changes in their business models and financial policies as the economic environment shifted. Among financial firms,

The Wall Street Journal

reported that

Goldman Sachs

(GS) - Get Report

was thinking about starting an Internet banking business.

Separately,

Bank of America

(BAC) - Get Report

may reduce its headcount by 30,000 as it merges with

Merrill Lynch

(MER)

, according to a report by

CNBC

.

Another report, this time from

Bloomberg

, indicated that Merrill would cut its year-end bonuses in half.

Elsewhere, mining company

Freeport-McMoRan

(FCX) - Get Report

said it was suspending its dividend on declines in copper and molybdenum prices.

BlackBerry maker

Research In Motion

(RIMM)

cut its third-quarter revenue and earnings-per-share forecasts, saying a stronger dollar and weaker U.S. economy would hurt its results.

On the merger front,

Electricite de France

said it was planning to issue a bid of $4.5 billion for U.S. power company

Constellation Energy

(CEG)

.

Shifting to commodities, crude oil was climbing 28 cents to $47.24 a barrel. Gold was losing $13.30 to $770 an ounce.

Longer-dated U.S. Treasury securities were falling in price. The 10-year note was down 20/32 to yield 2.74%, and the 30-year was losing 29/32 to yield 3.21%. The dollar was rising vs. the euro and pound but falling against the yen.

European exchanges were mixed, as the FTSE in London was eking out gains and the DAX in Frankfurt was trading lower. Asian markets, such as Japan's Nikkei and Hong Kong's Hang Seng, finished on the upside.