Stocks were flat on Wednesday as a weaker-than-expected reading on durable goods orders offset hopes that high oil prices could fall, removing a headwind to the economic recovery.

U.S. crude oil futures fell nearly 2 percent after a French newspaper reported several governments, including the United States, were considering the release of oil reserves to ease high prices at the pump, which are seen as an obstacle to an economic recovery.

New orders for U.S. manufactured goods rose less than expected in February and a gauge of future business investment also missed forecasts, casting a shadow on the manufacturing sector's support of the recovery.

The miss in durable goods took the enthusiasm out of the market, since they're usually seen as a signal of economic growth, said Adam Sarhan, chief executive of Sarhan Capital in New York. Still, markets remain strong, and it isn't a surprise to see us consolidate after the gains we've seen.

French newspaper Le Monde reported France was in talks with the U.S. and Britain on a possible release of strategic oil stocks. Oil prices are up 7.8 percent this year.

If those reserves were released, that would add supply into the equation and help lower prices, which have essentially been acting as a tax on consumers and businesses, Sarhan said.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> was down 1.21 points, or 0.01 percent, at 13,196.52. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> was down 1.31 points, or 0.09 percent, at 1,411.21. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> was up 4.42 points, or 0.14 percent, at 3,124.77.

Analysts said further upside in the S&P 500 was limited after gains of more than 12 percent this year. The benchmark index is on track for its best quarter since the third quarter of 2009.

Large-cap shares, many already at 52-week highs, could continue to outperform as money managers dress up their portfolios ahead of the quarter-end on Friday.

A total of 175 stocks on the New York Stock Exchange hit 52-week highs Tuesday, including Dow components Home Depot Inc , Walt Disney Co and International Business Machines Corp .

Much of the market's recent gains have come after accommodative monetary policies by central banks globally, including the U.S. Federal Reserve.

On Tuesday, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, asked in an ABC News interview about the potential for more quantitative easing, said the Fed wasn't taking any options off the table.

Family Dollar Stores Inc reported second-quarter earnings that beat expectations, sending the stock up 0.9 percent to $58.69.

Shares of Annie's Inc surged 67.1 percent to $31.75 after the organic food maker's initial public offering priced shares at $19, above its expected range.

Late Tuesday, PVH Corp
reported earnings that beat estimates. The stock was up 1.6 percent at $91.24.

Apple Inc will offer buyers of its new iPad in Australia a refund after it was accused of misleading advertising. Still, shares rose nearly 1 percent to $620.23 and hit another all-time high in early trading.

(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)