Another slide in raw-material producers and oil companies tugged the stock market to a slight loss on Wednesday, amid heightened concerns about global economic growth. Dow Chemical and Chevron each lost 2 percent.
At the close on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 50.6 points, about 0.3 percent, nearly at 16,380. The Standard & Poor's 500 index lost nearly 4 points, about 0.2 percent, to 1,938.8, and the Nasdaq composite gave up nearly 4 points, about 0.08 percent, to 4,752.7.
About the same time, the price of oil lost $1.66, about 3.6 percent, to $44.70 a barrel in trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It had plunged 2 percent the day before.
The news out Wednesday was hardly encouraging. A private measure of manufacturing in China hit its lowest level in six years, a result of weaker factory production, overall new orders and hiring.
That, along with plunging oil prices, could have led to a much bigger sell-off, said analyst Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Wells Capital Management. But that's hardly encouraging for investors looking for a signal that the worst is over. The market has finished lower in four of the past five days.
"I'm sure there are a lot of buyers on the sidelines," he said, "but right now it doesn't seem like a very good time to buy."
The major indexes headed higher at the outset of trading Wednesday, took a sharp turn lower just before lunchtime, then climbed back almost to break-even in the afternoon. By the closing bell, the stock market wound up just shy of where it started.
Mounting concerns about slowing global economic growth and the timing of the Federal Reserve's first interest-rate hike in nearly a decade has battered markets recently. The S&P 500, the most widely used measure of U.S. investments, has lost more than 8 percent in three months.
Anthony Valeri, a market strategist at LPL Financial, said he thinks the choppy trading will likely continue until next week, when a batch of major U.S. economic reports come out. The government releases its monthly look at the job market next Friday.