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July 31, 2013

Awaiting Bernanke, U.S. stocks wander

NEW YORK — On the stock market Tuesday, it felt like late-summer inertia had already set in.

U.S. stocks wandered between the tiniest of gains and losses before closing mixed. Traders were indecisive as companies reported disparate earnings news, and many were disinclined to make any big moves before getting direction from the Federal Reserve, which is scheduled to release an updated policy statement Wednesday.

The calendar said late July, but on the stock exchange it seemed more like August, when many traders take off for vacation and fewer stocks trade hands. The Dow Jones industrial average rose as much as 72 points in early trading — less than 0.5 percent — before flickering lower. It dipped into the red for most of the afternoon and closed down 1.38 points, or 0.01 percent, at 15,520.59.

“It seems like the doldrums of summer have set in,” said Dave Abate, senior wealth adviser at Strategic Wealth Partners in Seven Hills, Ohio.

The Nasdaq composite rose 17.33 points, or 0.5 percent, to 3,616.47, though even that gain was largely because Apple, its biggest component, was up more than 1 percent.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index plodded just a fraction higher, up 0.63 point, or 0.04 percent, to 1,685.96. Three of its industry sectors rose, led by technology stocks. Seven fell, dragged down by telecommunications companies.

Company earnings were equally inconclusive. Coach, the maker of upscale handbags, slumped 8 percent after reporting lower quarterly profit. But Goodyear Tire & Rubber jumped 9 percent after announcing that its quarterly earnings had doubled.

This earnings season has presented a picture encouraging on some fronts and troubling on others. Many companies, including big names like Apple and Visa, have posted better-than-expected results, and analysts predict that second-quarter earnings are up 4.7 percent for companies in the S&P 500, according to S&P Capital IQ. But the picture has its blemishes, including the fact that many of the gains are based not on business growth but on cost-cutting: Revenue is down about 0.5 percent.

“There’s a little bit of swapping chairs on the deck,” Abate said.

Outside of earnings reports, traders were keeping a close eye on the Federal Reserve, which began a two-day meeting Tuesday and will release an updated policy statement Wednesday.

Conjectures about the central bank have had a powerful influence on the stock market in recent months.

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