US stocks ended one of their flattest sessions in years on Wednesday as a positive read on private sector employment wasn't enough to interest buyers ahead of the highly anticipated June payrolls report.
Trade was quiet, with volume low and the S&P's intra-day range a mere 0.2 per cent, the narrowest since 1993, according to research firm MKM Partners. Nonetheless, the miniscule gains on the Dow and S&P 500 allowed the indexes to end at record highs.
The Dow ended 0.2 per cent below 17,000, moving within 15 points of that milestone at its session high, while the S&P 500 was less than 1.5 per cent under its own landmark of 2,000. Both levels could serve as psychological barriers as the market trades at record highs.
US private employers hired 281,000 workers in June, far exceeding expectations for 200,000, data from payrolls processor ADP showed. The number bodes well for the government payroll data due before the market opens on Thursday. A gain of about 212,000 jobs is expected in that report, down from May's 217,000.
"The odds are pretty good that we'll break through 17,000 soon, but people are hesitant to put on big bets ahead of the payroll report, especially with market liquidity so thin," said Jim McDonald, who oversees $915 billion as chief investment strategist at Chicago-based Northern Trust Global Investments. "It makes sense to see a little consolidation after yesterday's gains."
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 20.17 points or 0.12 per cent, to 16,976.24, the S&P 500 gained 1.3 points or 0.07 per cent, to 1,974.62 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 0.92 points or 0.02 per cent, to 4,457.73.
The S&P utilities sector suffered its biggest one-day decline since May and was by far the worst performer among the ten industry sectors. The group fell 2 per cent as traders bet the labor data indicated a stronger economy and the potential for higher interest rates. Utilities, because of their typically steep dividend yields, are a market favorite in a low interest rate environment.
Constellation Brands was one of the S&P 500's biggest percentage gainers, up 2.3 per cent to $90.45 after reporting earnings beat expectations.
JPMorgan Chase fell 1 per cent to $56.97 after chief executive officer Jamie Dimon said he had been diagnosed with early stage throat cancer but would remain actively involved in the largest US bank's business while in treatment.
In deal news, TechCrunch reported Rackspace Hosting may take itself private, while Bloomberg reported Shutterfly was working with boutique investment bank Qatalyst Partners to find buyers. Rackspace shares rose 6.3 per cent to $35.88 while Shutterfly jumped 15 per cent to $50.
About 61 per cent of stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange closed lower while 53 percent of Nasdaq-listed stocks ended in negative territory. About 4.79 billion shares traded on all US platforms, according to BATS exchange data, well below the month-to-date average of 6.15 billion.
Copyright: Thomson Reuters 2014