Updated from 2:59 p.m. EDTStocks in the U.S. finished little changed Thursday, as traders balanced weak quarterly reports out of the financial sector and another record for crude oil against strong technology earnings. After falling by as many as 72 points earlier, the Dow Jones Industrial Average clawed its way back and finished down 3.58 points, or 0.03%, to 13,888.96. The S&P 500 was off 1.16 points, or 0.08%, to 1540.08. The Nasdaq Composite eked out a gain of 6.64 points, or 0.24%, to 2799.31. "We're still seeing leadership from the technology sector, mostly related to earnings, but outside of that there's nothing leading us higher," said Paul Nolte, director of investments with Hinsdale Associates. "The market has come up so fast from the August bottom, and valuations are set now that a slowdown won't affect earnings going forward." Breadth was negative. On the New York Stock Exchange 2.65 billion shares changed hands, as decliners topped advancers by a 6-to-5 margin. Volume on the Nasdaq reached 1.94 billion shares, with losers outpacing winners nearly 8 to 7. Stocks initially took a hit after financial heavyweights Bank of America ( BAC) and Washington Mutual ( WM) offered disappointing reports. Bank of America reported a plunge in profits as "unprecedented market disruptions impacted trading results." Shares ended down $1.18, or 2.4%, to $48.85. At Washington Mutual, third quarter results showed a 72% decline in profit from a year ago. The bank said after the prior close that continuing problems in the housing market affected the value of its portfolio of mortgage loans. WaMu lost $2.55, or 7.7%, to $30.52.
Following the results, the KBW Bank Index was lower by 1%, and the NYSE Financial Sector Index was down 0.7%. Even so, stocks were able to rebound amid strong reports from several other names. "We're still in the early stages of the earnings season," said Michael Sheldon, chief market strategist with Spencer Clarke LLC. "Even though there have been some misses, investors are still trying to sort out the outlook for the economy and corporate profits over the months ahead." Among those with a strong report was eBay ( EBAY), which became the latest tech name to beat targets with its third-quarter results. eBay's earnings beat followed strong reports from Intel ( INTC) and Yahoo! ( YHOO), among others, the day before. eBay also raised its guidance, but a downgrade to sell and cautious comments from Deutsche Bank pressured the stock, and it fell $2.50, or 6.2%, to close at $38.10. Ahead of the new session, Nokia ( NOK) was out with positive results, posting a third-quarter profit that nearly doubled from a year ago. Elsewhere, UnitedHealth Group ( UNH) and McGraw-Hill ( MHP) trumped Wall Street's estimates. Pfizer ( PFE) also beat on an adjusted basis, but its overall net income plummeted 77%, largely because of a $2.8 billion pretax charge. The drug giant is recording the charge because it has decided to drop the inhaled insulin Exubera. Pfizer dipped by a penny to $24.54.
However, Nektar Therapeutics ( NKTR), which holds the licensing rights for Exubera, plunged 17.5% to $6.67. Following the close, Internet giant Google ( GOOG) topped analysts' estimates, which could give tech some upside momentum Friday. Away from stocks, crude prices continued their march toward $90 a barrel. The November crude contract jumped $2.07 to $89.47 a barrel. Gold and silver futures also finished higher. Treasury prices continued their rally. The 10-year note rose 13/32 in price, reducing the yield to 4.50%. The 30-year bond added 26/32 in price to yield 4.77%. On the economic front, the Labor Department said initial jobless claims unexpectedly jumped by 28,000 to 337,000 last week. The leading indicators rose 0.3%, as expected. Additionally, the Philadelphia Fed said its manufacturing index fell to a reading of 6.9 in October from 10.9 last month. Overseas markets were mixed. In Asia, Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.6%, and Japan's Nikkei 225 advanced 0.9%. In Europe, London's FTSE 100 was down 1%, while Germany's Xetra Dax shed 0.8%.