Updated September 24, 2013, 2:02 p.m. ET
By TOMI KILGORE
Stocks overcame early losses to trade slightly higher, putting blue chips on track for their first gain in four sessions, but lingering uncertainties surrounding Federal Reserve policy and budget discussions kept investors in check.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 27 points, or 0.2%, to 15428 in afternoon trade. The Dow was down as much as 61 points earlier in the session following weak regional manufacturing data before turning higher.
Over the past three sessions, the Dow has fallen 276 points, or 1.8%, to suffer its first three-session losing streak in more than a month.
The S&P 500 index rose five points, or 0.3%, to 1707, and the Nasdaq Composite Index gained 22 points, or 0.6%, to 3787.
Industrials and energy were among the strongest sectors, while technology and utilities declined.
Sal Arnuk, co-head of equity trading at Themis Trading, said investors were slowly coming to grips with the uncertainties surrounding Fed policy and the budget debate.
“The market has come a long way in the last few months, so we’re not surprised to see it consolidate,” Mr. Arnuk said. “But little by little, we’re seeing risk factors [fade].”
The S&P 500 lost 1.4% in the last three sessions, after closing at a record high of 1725.52 last Wednesday following the Fed’s surprise decision to keep its $85-billion-a-monthbond purchasing program intact. But the index is up 6.3% since the end of June, and has risen 20% so far this year.
Adam Sarhan, chief executive of New York-based investment firm Sarhan Capital, the bounce off the lows was a “classic example of weakness being bought,” as has been the case this year.
“The underlying driver of the market’s rally this year has been easy money from global central banks,” Mr. Sarhan said. “We found out last week, that story is alive and well.”
The Conference Board’s consumer-confidence index for September declined to 79.7 from a revised reading of 81.8 in August, versus expectations of 79.8. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond’s manufacturing index for September was zero, down from August’s 14.
Clark Yingst, chief market analyst at brokerage firm Joseph Gunnar & Co., said the Richmond Fed data were a “disappointment,” especially following other strong regional manufacturing data recently.
The S&P 500 was down as much as 0.4% soon after the release of the Richmond Fed data before turning higher.
Mr. Yingst expects the market to remain volatile following economic data releases, since the Fed said policy will remain dependent on incoming data. “With the Fed staying data dependent, the market will see increased volatility around economic data,” he said.
Earlier, the S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city home-price index for July rose 12.4% from year-earlier levels, in line with expectations of a 12.5% increase.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.648% from 2.714% late Monday.
November crude-oil futures lost 0.9% to $102.66 a barrel, on track for the lowest settlement in nearly seven weeks. September gold futures fell 0.9% to $1,314.80 an ounce. The dollar inched up against both the euro and the yen.
European markets gained, with the Stoxx Europe 600 closing up 0.2%, following data showing a pickup in German business confidence. The Ifo Institute’s business sentiment index for September rose to 107.7 from August’s 107.5, just shy of expectations of 108. Meanwhile, the business expectations index increased to 104.2 from 103.3, topping forecasts of 104. Germany’s DAX 30 index tacked on 0.3%.
Asian markets were mostly lower. China’s Shanghai Composite lost 0.6% after rallying 1.3% in the previous session. Japanese markets reopened after a long holiday weekend, with the Nikkei Stock Average slipping 0.1%.
In corporate news, Applied Materials rose after the semiconductor-equipment maker agreed to merge with Japan’s Tokyo Electron, creating a company with a market capitalization of $29 billion.
Facebook rallied to reach an all-time intraday high. A report in the South China Morning Post said the Chinese government plans to lift an Internet access ban within the Shanghai free-trade zone, which could clear citizens to visit social media sites like Facebook. Also, Citigroup upgraded Facebook to “buy” from “neutral,” saying factors that drove sharper growth in the second quarter appeared sustainable.
Red Hat slumped after the software company reported late Monday disappointing fiscal second-quarter billings data, offsetting earnings and revenue that were slightly above analyst estimates. Through Monday’s close, the stock had gained 15% since first-quarter results were reported.
Write to Tomi Kilgore at firstname.lastname@example.org
Adam Sarhan WSJ Quote: U.S. Stocks Rise Slightly- Fed Doubts Weigh; Manufacturing Data Disappoint
Updated September 24, 2013, 2:02 p.m. ET