Investors shrug off soft data on jobs


New York - The S&P 500 finished almost flat on Wednesday, a day after closing at an all-time high, as investors shrugged off soft data on jobs and the services sector while keeping an eye on developments in Ukraine.

The market showed little reaction to the Federal Reserve's Beige Book, which said severe weather across much of the United States took a toll on shopping and consumer spending in recent weeks. That led to slower economic growth or output in some areas of the country, according to the Fed's report of anecdotal information on the US economy.

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Data from payrolls processor ADP showed that US private-sector employers added fewer workers than expected in February. A report from the Institute for Supply Management showed the services sector continued to grow last month, albeit at a slower pace. A harsh winter has allowed traders to dismiss what appears to be a soft patch of data, making the market susceptible to a large pullback if the trend of weakness in data continues.

Market participants kept a close eye on developments out of Ukraine, following the most serious confrontation between Russia and the West over influence in Kiev and control of Crimea. Investors' global flight to safety on Monday was reversed sharply on Tuesday. Markets were calmer on Wednesday, but volatility was expected, given the fluid situation in Ukraine.

While the conflict between Ukraine and Russia is a significant risk to the global economy, “we don't expect current tensions to morph into a full-blown international crisis,” said Joseph P. Quinlan, chief market strategist at US Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management in New York.

The CBOE Volatility Index, Wall Street's fear gauge, dropped 1.5 percent to end at 13.89.

The S&P financial sector index rose 0.7 percent and led the S&P 500's gainers. Bank of America shares gained 3.2 percent to $17.25. Morgan Stanley rose 2.8 percent to $31.97.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq index closed slightly higher, outperforming the broader market. Facebook shares climbed to an all-time high of $71.97. The stock closed up 4 percent at $71.57.

But the Dow Jones industrial average slipped, led by losses in Exxon Mobil, down 2.8 percent at $93.80, and Nike Inc , down 1.5 percent at $77.42.

The S&P energy sector index slid 1.1 percent.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 35.70 points or 0.22 percent, to end at 16,360.18. The S&P 500 dipped just 0.10 of a point, or 0.01 percent, to finish at 1,873.81, just below its record closing high on Tuesday at 1,873.91.

The Nasdaq Composite added 6.002 points or 0.14 percent, to close at 4,357.974.

On Wednesday, the S&P 500 also hit an intraday record high at 1,876.53.

Honeywell International shares hit an all-time intraday high of $95.85 after the company set a target of increasing overall sales to more than $50 billion by 2018 as it spends $10 billion on acquisitions. Honeywell is a diversified manufacturer of aerospace parts and climate control and security systems. The stock ended at $94.66, up 0.06 percent.

Canadian Solar Inc slid 10.7 percent to $39.02 after the solar panel maker warned of a drop in revenue this quarter as about $100 million in sales were deferred after a severe winter.

Smith & Wesson Holding shares jumped 16.4 percent to $13.74 after the gun maker reported a 42 percent surge in its fiscal third-quarter profit.

About 6.52 billion shares changed hands on US exchanges, compared with the 7 billion average for the past month, according to data from BATS Global Markets.

Decliners beat advancers on the New York Stock Exchange by 1 540 to 1 436 on the New York Stock Exchange. On the Nasdaq, decliners nearly matched advancers, with 1 321 stocks down and 1 258 up. - Reuters

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