Stocks turned mixed by late in the session Wednesday as crude oil recovered from a steep selloff earlier in the session.
The S&P 500 was flat, recovering from an earlier decline of more than 1%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average slid 0.12%, and the Nasdaq added 0.45%.
Crude oil came back from lows after a weekly read on crude inventories showed a smaller-than-feared increase. Crude inventories rose by 3.5 million barrels in the past week, above forecasts for a 3-million-barrel rise, according to the Energy Information Administration. However, that was smaller than a separate read from the American Petroleum Institute on inventories which showed a rise of 7.1 million barrels in crude inventories over the last week. WTI crude added 0.4% to $31.99 a barrel on Wednesday.
Hopes that negotiations between members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries could result in a production cut faded on Wednesday. In a speech earlier Tuesday, Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi dismissed the possibility of production cuts, instead arguing that by maintaining output, the market will rebalance over time as demand improves. Negotiations over a production freeze started last week as oil producers grapple with a global surplus.
The housing sector cooled in January with new home sales tumbling 9.2% to a seasonally-adjusted 494,000, the Commerce Department said. The read was its lowest since October and missed estimates of 520,000. Demand for housing remained strong, though, with existing home sales data released a day earlier peaking at a six-month high.
Federal Reserve chatter also kept traders on the sidelines on Wednesday. Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer reiterated that members "do not know" what the exact rate hike plan looks like, emphasizing a continued focus on incoming data in a speech on Tuesday night.
Fischer also commented on recent market volatility. "We have seen similar periods of volatility in recent years -- including in the second half of 2011 -- that have left little visible imprint on the economy, and it is still early to judge the ramifications of the increased market volatility of the first seven weeks of 2016," he noted.
Meanwhile, two other Fed members came in on the hawkish side. Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker suggested he could back another interest rate hike when the central bank meets in less than a month as rates at current levels cannot adequately fight against deflation.
In a separate speech a day earlier, Kansas City Fed President Esther George said that a rate increase was still in play at the central bank's meeting in March, arguing that inflation was moving toward the Fed's 2% target.
Etsy (ETSY) added more than 5% after beating analysts' estimates in its recent quarter. The online crafts store also said it expects sales growth of 20% to 25% over the next three years. Fourth-quarter sales jumped 35% on strong demand during the holiday-shopping season.
First Solar (FSLR) surged 13% after a better-than-expected fourth quarter. However, the solar company did reduce its 2016 sales guidance, noting that it was pushing a number of projects to next year.
Target (TGT) climbed 2.4% after showcasing strong online sales growth in its recent quarter. The retailer reported a 1.9% increase in comparable-store sales in its fourth quarter, more than half of which were attributed to e-commerce.
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DreamWorks Animation (DWA) jumped 20% after posting a 36% increase in revenue. The movie studio benefited from better-than-expected results in its feature film segment, led by animated film How to Train Your Dragon 2. Adjusted earnings of 55 cents a share rocketed past estimates of 16 cents.
Lowe's (LOW) slid 2% after a disappointing quarter that was a stark contrast to competitor Home Depot's results a day earlier. Profit slumped to 1 cent a share, down from 46 cents a share a year earlier. The home-improvement retailer cited a $530 million charge related to its exit from its joint venture in Australia as the main reason for the decline in profit.
Chesapeake Energy (CHK) bounced 21% after announcing even more cuts to capital expenditure spending in the face of weaker oil prices. The oil company reported a quarterly loss of $3.36 a share compared to profit of 81 cents a share a year earlier. Chesapeake plans to cut capex spending by 57% in 2016.