Stocks Mixed in Choppy Session as Market Awaits Earnings Season

NEW YORK ( The Street) -- Major U.S. markets closed mixed as investors awaited the earnings season to kick off.

The S&P 500 settled up 0.03% to 1,838.13, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average was 0.11% lower at 16,444.76. The Nasdaq slid 0.23% to 4,156.19.

  • "The market is becalmed before earnings ... like a sailing ship at sea with no breeze," Lawrence Creatura, portfolio manager at Federated Investors, said in a phone interview. "I think it's reasonable to expect continued growth."
  • Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY) tumbled 12.5% after it projected earnings that missed estimates. Family Dollar Stores (FDO) and L Brands (LB) fell 2.2% and 4.1% respectively after cutting profit forecasting. Deep discounting failed to help lift December sales for these retailers. Meanwhile, Macy's (M) and Costco (COST) jumped after the former's job cut announcement and the latter's robust same-store sales report. Macy's shares ended 7.7% higher at $55.81, while Costco was up 3.9% to $118.51. 
  • Alcoa (AA) and World Alumina agreed to pay $384 million to the U.S. Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission to settle bribery allegations linked to a contract with Bahrain's aluminum smelter. Alcoa shares closed 1.4% lower at $10.68. The company reported an adjusted profit of 4 cents a share on revenue of $5.59 billion. Wall Street forecast earnings of 6 cents a share on $5.34 billion.
  • The European Central Bank and Bank of England both left their key interest rates unchanged at current record low levels. 
  • U.S. weekly initial jobless claims for the week of Jan. 4 fell to 330,000, beating expectations of 335,000. Meanwhile job cuts fell to the lowest level of the year in December, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Generally, expectations for Friday's December government job report have been rising especially after ADP private payroll employment data for December beat estimates on Wednesday.
  • Eurozone economic sentiment improved to a 21/2-year high in December, according to the European Commission. German industrial production increased by a greater than expected 1.9% in November.
  • Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank President Narayana Kocherlakota is set to participate in a public town hall meeting in Minneapolis at 8 p.m. 
  • The Nikkei closed off 1.50% while the Hang Seng finished 0.91% lower. Germany's DAX was falling 0.46% while the London FTSE was 0.55% lower. 
-- By Jane Searle and Joe Deaux in New York