NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Stocks finished mixed in tight trading on Tuesday as clarity about European leaders' plans to stabilize the eurozone's debt situation continued to elude investors. Slovakia's delay of a vote on expanding the eurozone's bailout fund created the uncertainty during market hours and media reports surfaced after the closing bell that the country had voted against the expansion. The country is the last of 17 eurozone members needed to approve a July 21 agreement to change the European Financial Stability Facility, and the vote against the deal complicates the efforts of European leaders to assure global investors that they are willing to take bold action to prevent contagion. There is a feeling, however, that Slovakian approval could come later this week since most of the parliament's parties support it, media reports said. The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished down 17 points, or 0.2%, at 11,416. A day after the blue-chip index saw its largest percentage gain in two months, rising more than 300 points on Monday, the Dow ranged less than 95 points from peak to trough during Tuesday's session. Tech and transportation were the session's best-performing sectors. The tech heavy Nasdaq closed up by 17 points, or 0.7%, at 2583, and the S&P 500 finished nearly 1 point higher at 1196. Of the 30 components within the Dow, 17 lost ground with AT&T ( T), Merck ( MRK), and Travelers Cos. ( TRV) posting the biggest percentage declines. Alcoa ( AA), Bank of America ( BAC), and Caterpillar ( CAT) were standout gainers.
The third-quarter earnings season got off to a rocky start though as Alcoa subsequently missed Wall Street's earnings view by more than 30%, delivering a profit of 15 cents a share vs. a consensus estimate of 22 cents per share. Sales of $6.42 billion, however, exceeded projections for revenue of $6.22 billion. Wall Street had been expecting some pressure on earnings because of the recent plunge in aluminum prices. Shares of Alcoa were losing 5.4% to $9.74 during the after-market session. Investors and economists disagree over the effect of earnings on stock prices, but a downbeat quarter could trigger fears that U.S. economic weakness is spreading. Since July, analysts have lowered their estimates for annual earnings growth of S&P 500 companies from 17% to 13%, according to Thomson Reuters. Deep divisions within Slovakia's government led to doubts over whether the country will give the green light to expanding Europe's bailout fund. Slovakia is the last of 17 members needed to approve a July 21 agreement to change the European Financial Stability Facility. According to a Wall Street Journal report, the country's lawmakers delayed a crucial vote on the expansion Tuesday, pushing it to later in the week at the earliest. Some investors are convinced that Europe can move forward with its plans without Slovakia's approval. Germany and France, key players in how the debt crisis unfolds, have already approved the increase. "A little country has thrown a momentary clog in the wheel," says Fred Dickson, market strategist at D.A. Davidson. The euro indicates that currency traders are betting that Slovakia will eventually find some way to pass the legislation, he added. "The whole thing is one of fits and starts," wrote David Ader, market strategist with CRT Capital Group, in a research note. Ader added that he expects "more dire outcomes," including deeper haircuts and more bailouts of banks, before the EFSF is expanded. European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet described Europe's crisis as reaching a "systemic dimension" earlier Tuesday. Also tempering investor sentiment were signs over the weekend that Europe was in serious talks to shore up its banking system, as well as added clarity on the bailout of Belgian's largest lender, Dexia. European stocks pared losses after the U.S. market opened. London's FTSE dropped 0.06% while Germany's DAX edged up 0.3%. Asian stocks jumped overnight, helped by the Chinese government's move to buy stakes in China's banks. Japan's Nikkei Average finished up 1.95%, and Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 2.43%. In corporate news, car rental company Dollar Thrifty ( DTG) said it hasn't received any final acquisition offers and will continue with a stand-alone plan. Shares tumbled 2% to $59.19. American Airlines ( AMR) shares jumped more than 7% to $2.71 after the company said it plans to cut costs, including trimming flights, in attempts to become more profitable amid the economic slowdown. AMR stock had plummeted a week ago on rumors that the company might file for bankruptcy amid a wave of pilot retirements. Gold for December delivery lost $9.80, or 0.6%, to settle at $1,661 an ounce, reversing Monday's rally. In other commodities, the November crude oil contract edged up 40 cents, or 0.5%, to settle at $85.81 a barrel. Nearly 4 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange during Tuesday's session while some 1.7 billion stocks changed hands on the Nasdaq. Market breadth was weighted to the positive as 58% of stocks advanced while 39% declined. The benchmark 10-year Treasury weakened 27/32, pushing the yield to 2.164%. The dollar index, a measure of the dollar's value against a basket of currencies, slipped 0.137%. -- Written by Chao Deng and Melinda Peer in New York.