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Stocks indexes recover and end day with small gains

The American flag and a sign for Wall

The American flag and a sign for Wall Street outside the New York Stock Exchange, Monday, July 15, 2013. Credit: AP / Mark Lennihan

U.S. stocks indexes perked up late Wednesday after a downbeat start to eke out small gains. Consumer companies were among the big gainers on a day when investors sized up a mixed bag of new data on the U.S. manufacturing, housing and automobile industries. Telecommunications stocks lagged the rest of the market.

ON WALL STREET: As the market closed, the Dow Jones industrial average was up 2.5 points, about 0.01 percent, at 17,789.7. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was up 2.4 points, about 0.1 percent, at 2099.3. The Nasdaq composite gained 4.2 points, about 0.08 percent, to 4,952.3.

OIL PRICES: As the trading day ended, benchmark U.S. crude oil was up 9 cents at $49.19 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. In London, Brent crude, used to price international oils, was off 18 cents at $49.71 a barrel.

LOOKING FOR CLUES: Investors have been looking for clues in the latest economic figures to gauge the likelihood that the Federal Reserve will raise its key interest rate at the central bank’s next meeting of policymakers later this month. “The market is in a holding pattern,” said Quincy Krosby, market strategist at Prudential Financial. “Everything now is being viewed via the eye of the Fed in order to ascertain whether and if we get a rate hike this summer.”

MIXED DATA: The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing managers, said that U.S. factories expanded for the third straight month in May, helped by a weaker U.S. dollar. Separately, the Commerce Department said U.S. construction spending fell in April by the biggest amount in five years, dragged down by declines in housing, commercial construction and spending on government projects. The reports came a day after the latest measure of U.S. consumer confidence dropped for a second month.

CHINA SNAPSHOT: Two surveys showed persisting weakness in China’s factories last month, another sign of trouble for the world’s second-largest economy. An official index by the Chinese Federation of Logistics & Purchasing, based on a survey of factory purchasing managers, came in at 50.1 in May. Numbers above 50 indicate expansion and those below 50 indicate contraction. The private Caixin/Markit survey was more pessimistic. That survey fell to 49.2 last month from 49.4 in April.

GLOBAL GLOOM: Reports released on Tuesday showed U.S. consumer confidence fell in May for a second month and is now at the lowest level since November. On Wednesday, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development cut its global growth forecasts and warned of a “low-growth trap” in which weak growth expectations among consumers and businesses become self-fulfilling.

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