Stocks Jumbled Ahead of Company Earnings

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Major U.S. stock averages closed mixed Tuesday as investors braced for bank earnings and processed a slew of economic reports.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke emphasized the necessity of raising the debt ceiling soon, an issue of concern for investors.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 28 points, or 0.2%, to 13,535.

Breadth was slightly positive, with winners outnumbering losers 17 to 13. The biggest percentage blue-chip laggards included Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ), AT&T ( T), Merck ( MRK) and Verizon ( VZ).

JPMorgan Chase ( JPM) shares moved higher after initially dipping at the open. The firm was ordered to take steps to correct poor risk management in connection with the multi-billion dollar trading loss it suffered last year.

Top gainers included Microsoft ( MSFT), Caterpillar ( CAT) and JPMorgan.

The S&P 500 was up 2 points, or 0.1%, to 1,472.

The Nasdaq slipped 7 points, or 0.2%, to 3,111 as Apple ( AAPL) shares slid 3.2% to trade below $500.

The broader sectors were mixed. Sector advancers included capital goods, consumer non-cyclicals, consumer cyclicals and transportation. Decliners included healthcare and technology.

Volumes totaled 3.12 billion shares traded on the Big Board and 1.85 tillion on the Nasdaq. Advancers were edging decliners by a 1.3-to-1 ratio on the New York Stock Exchange, and a 1.2-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

Ted Weisberg, president of Seaport Securities, said he thinks the stock market is suggesting the economy is doing "a little better than it might be." While the economic numbers this week are important, the focus, he stressed, remains on fourth-quarter earnings.

"The problem with the entire market and fourth-quarter earnings is that with the market trading at current levels, which for many of the popular averages are at or making new recovery highs, there leaves little room for disappointment," said Weisberg. "So when stocks get priced to perfection in a general sense, companies better get it right because if they don't, then the stocks are going to suffer. It doesn't mean we're going to throw the baby out with the bath water, but what it does mean is that there is little room for error."

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