Stocks stalled on Wednesday, a day after the Dow and the S&P 500 closed above important technical levels and at their highest in about 2-1/2 years.
Investors were reluctant to make big bets even though a report showed U.S. private employers added more jobs than expected in January.
Frank Lesh, a futures analyst and broker at FuturePath Trading LLC in Chicago, said a generally positive earnings season was keeping stocks at lofty levels.
Maybe we'll focus on some of the problems that are out there once the earnings are out of the way, he said. I wouldn't be surprised to see a bit of a pullback.
The Dow closed on Tuesday comfortably above the milestone 12,000 level for the first time since June 2008, and the S&P closed above the 1,300 level for the first time since August 2008.
Investors kept an eye on protests in Egypt as street clashes erupted. Concerns that protests could spread to other countries in the region have pressured equities in recent sessions.
The Market Vectors Egypt Index ETF , which consists of shares of companies in Egypt, fell 0.6 percent after rising for two consecutive days.
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> gained 7.76 points, or 0.06 percent, to 12,047.92. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> dropped 2.33 points, or 0.18 percent, to 1,305.26. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> rose 2.03 points, or 0.07 percent, to 2,753.22.
Joseph Hargett, a strategist at Schaeffer's Investment Research, said the Dow needs to stay above 12,000 firmly as a show of short-term support.
The resistance (for the Dow) now resides in the 12,100-12,200 area.
After a pullback late last week the S&P 500 is starting to look overbought again by some measures. The index is more than one standard deviation above its 50-day moving average and the weekly relative strength index is above 70.
Trading volumes were not seriously affected by a harsh winter storm that brought parts of the U.S. Midwest to a standstill.
The story was different for futures traders in Chicago, which took much of the brunt of the storm.
It's definitely light downtown here. Pit trading opened late too, said Lesh from Chicago, where he said the snow was 21 inches deep. We're about half-staffed.
In the options market, about 6.6 million contracts exchanged hands in morning trading, also near the average.
The PHLX semiconductor index <.SOX> could be about to break strong resistance around the 450 area, which coincides with the 23.6 percent retracement of the slide from its historic highs in 2000 to the low hit in November 2008.
The index, currently up 0.6 percent at 454.35, is on track for a back-to-back close above 450, a feat not achieved since November 2007.
Appliance maker Whirlpool Corp dropped 2.2 percent to $83.56 after its profit missed estimates.
Time Warner Inc and Mattel Inc rallied after both companies reported stronger-than-expected quarterly profits. Media group Time Warner gained 8 percent to $34.90 while toymaker Mattel was up 2 percent to $24.63.
(Additional reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Editing by Padraic Cassidy)