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Updated from 4:11 p.m. EDT

Stocks in the U.S. finished little changed Wednesday as choppy economic data had traders a little tentative following the previous session's rally.


Dow Jones Industrial Average

added 19.75 points, or 0.16%, to 12,530.05. Half of the Dow's 30 components finished with gains, led by a 2.3% rise in


(MSFT) - Get Free Report

after Citigroup raised its third-quarter estimates for the software giant.


S&P 500

gained 1.60 points, or 0.11%, to 1439.37, and the

Nasdaq Composite

was up 8.36 points, or 0.34%, at 2458.69.

About 2.58 billion shares changed hands on the

New York Stock Exchange

, with advancers beating decliners by a 6-to-5 margin. Volume on the Nasdaq reached 1.74 billion shares, and decliners outpaced winners 8 to 7.

The minor push forward came a day after the Dow jumped 128 points, or 1.03%, to 12,510.30, sending it back into positive territory for the year. The Nasdaq rose 28.07 points, or 1.16%, to 2450.33.

Keeping stocks hemmed in was a report from the Institute for Supply Management, whose services index unexpectedly fell to a reading of 52.4 in March from 54.3 the previous month. Economists were looking for an increase to 54.7.

Additionally, the Census Bureau said factory orders rose a less-than-expected 1% in February, compared with a 5.6% drop in January. Estimates were for a 2% increase.

Considering the sluggish nature of the data, many traders are no doubt contenting themselves with the profits they've already collected this week, and are now gearing up for a long holiday weekend and the start of corporate earnings.

To view Farnoosh Torabi's video take on today's market, click here


Markets will be closed April 6 because of the Good Friday holiday. Trading will resume April 9, a day before Dow component


(AA) - Get Free Report

unofficially kicks off the first-quarter earnings season.

Still, Wall Street's failure to build on the previous day's gains was a modest surprise given that oil declined again, this time after Iran decided to free 15 British sailors and marines it captured last month in the Persian Gulf.

Crude, which lost more than a dollar a barrel in the last session, fell another 26 cents to close at $64.38. Aside from the news out of Iran, also putting pressure on oil was an Energy Department report showing an increase in inventories of 4.3 million barrels last week.

Gasoline stocks slid by 5 million barrels, while distillate supplies were unchanged from their previous levels.

Other commodities were higher. Gold jumped $7.70 to $677.40 an ounce, and natural gas rose 9 cents at $7.51 per million British thermal units.

Precious metals-related subindices were among the winners of the day. The Amex Gold Bugs Index gained 1.9%, and the Philadelphia Gold & Silver Index rose 1.3%.

Other winners included the Philadelphia Semiconductor Sector Index, which added 0.9%, and the Amex Oil Index, up 0.6%. On the losing side, the Philadelphia Housing Sector Index fell 0.7%, and the Philadelphia/KBW Bank Index slipped 0.4%.

Treasury prices moved to the upside. The 10-year note gained 5/32 to yield 4.65%, and the 30-year bond increased 4/32 to yield 4.84%.

"On the heels of Tuesday's advance, as well as lower oil prices and the Iranian news, it's disappointing we haven't been able to make further progress," said Michael Sheldon, chief market analyst with Spencer Clarke LLC. "The ISM nonmanufacturing index declined, and sentiment has turned a little cautious.

"Investors face enough economic uncertainty that is likely to limit the advance in equities over the near term," added Sheldon. "It'll be interesting to see if we can hold on to our gains."

Retail earnings reports were leading the corporate news. First up,

Best Buy

(BBY) - Get Free Report

posted a fiscal-fourth-quarter profit of $763 million, or $1.55 a share, up 18% from a year ago. Revenue increased to $12.9 billion from $10.69 billion in the year-ago period.

Analysts expected earnings of $1.52 a share on revenue of $12.67 billion. Still, Best Buy lost $1.24, or 2.5%, to $47.89.

Rival electronics retailer

Circuit City

(CC) - Get Free Report

swung to a fourth-quarter loss of $12.2 million, or 7 cents a share. Results included pretax charges that totaled $144.6 million. Revenue rose to $3.93 billion from $3.89 billion a year earlier, but missed the Wall Street estimate of $4.04 billion. Circuit City slid by 7 cents, or 0.4%, to $18.21.

Among the early research calls, Prudential initiated coverage of


(F) - Get Free Report



(GM) - Get Free Report

with underweight ratings and


(HMC) - Get Free Report

with an overweight.

Ford dipped 0.5% to close at $8.04, and GM shed 1.4% to $31.03. Honda added 1.5% to $36.01.

Staying in the auto sector,


( DCX) said it has held discussions about the possibility of shedding or finding a partnership for its Chrysler division. The automaker finished lower by 38 cents, or 0.5%, to $82.57.

Overnight in Asia, markets rose. Tokyo's Nikkei 225 was ahead by 1.7% at 17,544, and Hong Kong's Hang Seng climbed 1% to 20,210.

Europe's bourses were mixed, with London's FTSE 100 flat at 6365 and Frankfurt's Xetra DAX up 0.4% at 7074.