U.S. stocks kept close to the break-even point on Wednesday after weak reports on the labor market and regional manufacturing were offset by strength in the energy sector.

A legal ruling in U.S. oil giant Chevron's favor drove the Dow component's stock up 1 percent, which helped limit the Dow's decline and prompted investors to buy some energy-related shares. Higher oil prices helped the sector.

The broader market also got support from Honeywell International Inc , up 1.7 percent at $45.72 a day after raising its first-quarter profit outlook.

But Wall Street's main focus was on the economy, with sentiment dented by the Chicago Purchasing Managers Index, which showed business activity in the U.S. Midwest slipped to 58.8 in March -- falling short of economists' consensus forecast.

Earlier, the ADP jobs report showed U.S. private employers shed 23,000 jobs this month, missing expectations for a gain of 40,000 jobs.

Investors were looking to the ADP report for insight into the coming March non-farm payroll number, which will be released on Good Friday, when the U.S. stock market will be closed.

The ADP number was a disappointment, but some investors are thinking that it may not directly reflect what could happen on Friday, said Terry Morris, senior equity manager at National Penn Investors Trust in Reading, Pennsylvania.

Morris said that because Friday's report would include the impact of Census hiring, it may not be worse than expected like the ADP report. That could be one of the reasons we're not selling off more on the news.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> was down 14.36 points, or 0.13 percent, at 10,893.06. But the Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> was down just 0.07 of a point, or 0.01 percent, at 1,173.20. And the Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> was up only 0.87 of a point, or 0.04 percent, at 2,411.56.

The S&P 500 is up 73.5 percent from the March 2009 bottom and is on track for a fourth straight quarterly gain.

Wednesday's closing bell will mark the end of the first quarter. With just an afternoon of trading to go, the first- quarter gains for the major indexes so far stand at Dow, up 4.5 percent; S&P 500, up 5.2 percent, and Nasdaq, up 6.3 percent.

Chevron Corp shares ranked as the greatest positive influence on the Dow, jumped 1 percent to $76.03 after the second-largest U.S. oil company won a three-year-old arbitration fight against Ecuador over a commercial dispute.

The S&P Energy Index <.GSPE> shot up 0.6 percent and was the top percentage gainer among S&P sectors.

Higher oil prices also supported energy stocks, with May crude oil futures up 1.26 percent, or $1.04, at $83.41 per barrel.

The top drag on the Dow was Boeing Co , which said it would take an income tax charge of about $150 million in its first quarter because of recent healthcare legislation. The stock fell 1.1 percent to $72.69.

Aircraft parts supplier Goodrich Corp forecast a $10 million charge from the healthcare legislation, and its stock dipped 0.1 percent to $71.48.

Also on Wednesday, a separate report by the U.S. Commerce Department showed U.S. factory orders increased 0.6 percent in February, slightly higher than forecast.

On the earnings front, SAIC Inc fell 6.4 percent to $17.76 a day after the company reported fourth-quarter earnings that missed expectations.

(Reporting by Ryan Vlastelica; Editing by Jan Paschal)