NEW YORK - Wall Street finished an erratic session mixed Thursday after a batch of uneven earnings reports made investors cautious about buying stocks. Disappointing economic readings added to the market's uneasiness a day after a big rally.
The market grew jittery after the Philadelphia Federal Reserve said regional manufacturing weakened further in April. The index of manufacturing activity fell to a negative 24.9 from a negative 17.4 in March. The survey found most manufacturing executives were "cautiously optimistic" about future activity, but a report of higher unemployment claims reinforced the market's recession worries.
Merrill Lynch & Co. reported a first-quarter loss of $2.14 billion, a shortfall that was wider than the average analyst estimate. The loss came after the world's largest brokerage wrote down the value of assets tied to mortgages and leveraged loans by several billion dollars. The company also said it would eliminate 3,000 more jobs, for a total of 4,000 in the latest round of cuts. However, Merrill CEO John Thain said during a conference call that business conditions in April appear better than in the first quarter.
Merrill's report followed a larger-than-anticipated rise in IBM Corp.'s quarterly earnings, but there were also disappointing results from Nokia Corp., the world's biggest mobile phone company, and drugmaker Pfizer.
The Dow Jones industrial average was little changed, edging up 1.22, or 0.01 percent, to 12,620.49, after fluctuating throughout the session.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index advanced 0.85, or 0.06 percent, to 1,365.56, while the Nasdaq composite index fell 8.28, or 0.35 percent, to 2,341.83.