Energy companies and retailers weighed on U.S. stocks in late-afternoon trading Tuesday, setting the market on course for an uneven close. Oil prices closed lower, backtracking after an early rally. Investors had their eye on the latest batch of company earnings and economic data.
KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average slid eight points to 18,521 as of 3:20 p.m. Eastern time. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell less than one point to 2,180. The Nasdaq composite index added 10 points, or 0.2 percent, to 5,223.
THE QUOTE: With nearly 90 percent of S&P 500 companies already reporting, earnings this quarter have been OK, while revenue growth has not been as bad as expected, said Bob Doll, chief equity strategist at Nuveen Asset Management.
"We're slowly turning the corner and exiting (the) earnings recession," Doll said. "The worst quarter, year-over-year, was the first quarter. While the second quarter wasn't great, it was less bad. The third and fourth quarters will continue that."
ENERGY: An early rally in U.S. crude oil prices evaporated. Benchmark U.S. crude was fell 25 cents, or 0.6 percent, to close at $42.77 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, slid 41 cents, or 0.9 percent, to close at $44.98 per barrel in London.
In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline slipped 2 cents to $1.34 a gallon, while heating oil lost a penny to $1.33 a gallon. Natural gas fell 13 cents, or 4.8 percent, to $2.62 per 1,000 cubic feet.
SAPPED: Several oil and gas companies were trading lower. NRG Energy fell 61 cents, or 4.5 percent, to $12.91, while Southwestern Energy shed 57 cents, or 4.1 percent, to $13.55. Chesapeake Energy also declined, losing 20 cents, or 4 percent, to $4.81.
RETAIL THERAPY: Retailers were among the biggest laggards. Gap sank 6.5 percent after reporting lower sales in the second quarter and in July. The stock dropped $1.66 to $23.96. Kohl's also fell, shedding $1.57, or 4 percent, to $37.80. Target slid $2.55, or 3.4 percent, to $72.45.
ROUGH SEAS: Shares in two of the biggest cruise line operators were down. Royal Caribbean Cruises slid $4.92, or 6.7 percent, to $69.06, while Carnival lost $1.30, or 2.8 percent, to $45.18.
BACK IN BLACK: Endo International vaulted 20.9 percent a day after the medical device maker reported that it returned to profit in the second quarter. The Dublin-based company's shares gained $3.80 to $21.99.
ON THE MEND: Valeant Pharmaceuticals surged 23.7 percent after the Canadian drugmaker stuck by its earnings outlook from earlier this year, despite reporting a wider second-quarter loss. The company also said it is undergoing a restructuring. The stock added $5.31 to $27.76.
BETTER QUARTERS: Chemicals company Chemours and solar energy seller Vivint Solar rose sharply after posting better-than-expected earnings. Chemours added $1.03, or 11.1 percent, to $10.35, while Vivint gained 37 cents, or 11.6 percent, to $3.56.
MORE OF LESS: The Labor Department said American workers' productivity unexpectedly fell at an annual rate of 0.5 percent in the second quarter. That followed a 0.6 percent drop in the first three months of the year. The latest decline corresponds to a U.S. economy in which overall economic growth has been sluggish while hiring has been relatively robust.
"The productivity number was surprisingly weak," said Mike Baele, senior portfolio manager with U.S. Bank's Private Client Reserve. "That's concerning, because low productivity puts a limit both on wage growth and corporate profit."
MARKETS OVERSEAS: In Europe, Germany's DAX rose 2.5 percent, while France's CAC 40 gained 1.2 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 added 0.6 percent. In Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 finished 0.7 percent higher, while South Korea's Kospi climbed 0.6 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index fell 0.1 percent, while China's Shanghai Composite Index gained 0.7 percent. Stocks in Australia, Taiwan and the Philippines were higher.
STIMULUS SPECULATION: A measure of consumer price growth in China declined in July for the third month in a row and came in below the government's inflation target. The data, which followed a drop in Chinese exports last month, fueled investors' expectations that Beijing will implement more stimulus measures in a bid to soften the economy's slowdown.
METALS: The price of gold rose $5.60, or 0.4 percent, to $1,339 an ounce. Silver added 4 cents, or 0.2 percent, to $19.85 an ounce. Copper slipped 2 cents, or 0.7 percent, to $2.15 a pound.
BONDS AND CURRENCIES: Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 1.54 percent from 1.59 late Monday. In currency markets, the dollar fell to 101.90 yen from 102.47 yen on Monday, while the euro strengthened to $1.1107 from $1.1083.