NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Benchmark indices had an anticlimactic day after a record-breaking run over Wednesday's session. Markets slowed down to digest payrolls and factory orders data and watched closely for hints from Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen on monetary policy.
After flirting with a 17,000-level a day earlier, the Dow Jones Industrial Average nudged 0.12% higher to 16,976.24, while the S&P 500 added 0.07% to 1,974.61 and the Nasdaq slipped 0.02% to 4,457.73.
But whether it makes it to 17,000 or not, Wells Fargo analyst Scott L. Wren reminds investors it's just a number. In a note, Wren wrote, "This is not a technical trading level that looks important on the price charts. It is more of a psychological level."
What's important, then, is the underlying fundamentals of the market which sparked that kind of rally. This week, though shortened, has been a bounty of strong data including stronger-than-expected housing data, Chinese manufacturing recording expansion for the first time this year and payrolls climbing at a steeper rate than forecast.
This snapshot of an economy in recovery lends to high hopes the market is on the cusp of even better earnings for the remainder of 2014.
"Corporate earnings are going to be the highest level ever this year, so the S&P should be the highest level ever this year. I don't think it's going to be a 30% year but a 9% to 10% year," Karyn Cavanaugh, senior market strategist at Voya Investment Management, told TheStreet. "If corporations continue to do better, then the market is going to grind higher and we've seen that this year."
Second-quarter earnings season will kick into gear Tuesday with the release of Alcoa (AA) results, the aluminum producer the unofficial herald of each quarter's reporting period.
In macro news Wednesday, Yellen commented on monetary policy in a speech delivered to the International Monetary Fund in Washington. Yellen said current monetary policy would likely remain untouched even though "pockets of increased risk-taking" exist, instead preferring regulatory tools to promote financial stability. Investors were on high alert heading into the speech, eager to pick up hints on when U.S. interest rates will rise.
U.S. factory orders in May slipped 0.5%, a wider fall than the 0.3% drop economists expected. The decline ends three months of gains achieved since February. Orders for durable goods slipped 0.9%, while non-durable goods slid 0.2%.
Data from ADP data show higher-than-expected payroll growth in the private employment sector, up 281,000 jobs in June from 180,000 in May and above economists' estimates of 205,000. The official U.S. nonfarm payrolls report is due out Thursday, moved forward a day to account for the Independence Day holiday on Friday.
JPMorgan Chase (JPM) moved 1% lower after CEO Jamie Dimon disclosed he has been diagnosed with curable throat cancer and will begin treatment shortly.
Airline stocks tumbled after Delta Air Lines (DAL) reported passenger revenue up 4.5% in June, well below May's 7% increase, due to lower-than-expected international yields. Shares slipped 5.2% to $38.24, while Alaska Air Group (ALK), United Continental (UAL), and Hawaiian Holdings (HA) dropped 1.8%, 7.1% and 2.4%, respectively.
Rackspace (RAX) spiked 6.3% to $35.88 on reports the cloud computing specialist is in discussions to go private.
Bank of America (BAC) shares were moving 1.6% higher to $15.85 after nabbing an upgrade to "buy" at Deutsche Bank. Analysts increased their price target to $18 from $16.50.
Greenbrier Cos. (GBX) popped 12% to $64.61 after surpassing analysts' earnings estimates by 29 cents, pulling in $1.03 a share in net income.
Constellation Brands (STZ) shares were also up 2.3% to $90.45 after generating $1.53 billion in revenue, a 127.2% year-over-year jump. Earnings of $1.07 a share beat estimates by 14 cents.
-- Written by Keris Alison Lahiff in New York.