U.S. stocks finished mostly flat in a choppy session on Wednesday, as investors bet on strong technology earnings even as JPMorgan Chase's numbers weighed on other market sectors.
Network equipment maker Riverbed Technology Inc
This earnings season is an expectation game, said King Lip, chief investment officer of Baker Avenue Asset Management in San Francisco.
He said after Riverbed's competitor F5 reported poor earnings in January, analysts pretty much thought companies like Riverbed were going to miss. That's why you see the strong reaction in their shares today.
F5 Networks Inc
JPMorgan Chase & Co
Most people had expected JPMorgan to do well. That was factored in already, Lip said.
In an outline of his budget proposal, President Barack Obama said he would refuse to renew Bush-era tax breaks for wealthier Americans. A deal to extend those cuts last December propelled the S&P 500 to its highest level in two years.
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> gained 7.41 points, or 0.06 percent, to 12,270.99. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> inched up 0.25 of a point, or 0.02 percent, to 1,314.41. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> added 16.73 points, or 0.61 percent, to 2,761.52.
The S&P Information Technology Index <.GSPT> added 0.7 percent.
From a technical perspective, the S&P 500 weakened as its daily moving average convergence-divergence, a gauge of short-term relative performance, triggered a sell signal for the first time since late March.
The benchmark S&P 500's momentum was at its lowest since late March and its relative strength index, near 49, was neutral and far from oversold despite posting losses in four of the last five sessions.
Investors seem to be looking ahead to the Federal Reserve's policy meeting in two weeks, according to Bruce Bittles, chief investment strategist of Robert W. Baird & Co in Nashville. The Fed is expected to detail its exit strategy as a $600 billion asset-buying program comes to an end.
The market is trying to find the right sector to be in, in this kind of environment, Bittles said.
About 6.9 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, NYSE Amex and Nasdaq, below last year's estimated daily average of 8.47 billion.
Advancing stocks outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 1,535 to 1,374, while on the Nasdaq 1,317 shares rose and 1,251 stocks fell.
(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Editing by Jan Paschal)