Stocks edged higher on Wednesday following three straight days of declines after more labor-market data suggested that the economy's recovery remains a slow one.

The ADP survey of private-sector jobs showed employers cut 298,000 jobs in August. That number was better than July's figure, but worse than expected, suggesting struggles in the labor market before Friday's highly anticipated monthly jobs data from the U.S. Labor Department.

Improvement in the job market has been slow, and consumer confidence has stumbled of late, worrying those hoping for an upturn in consumer demand to fuel economic growth. The current mean estimate of economists polled by Reuters is for a loss of 225,000 jobs in Friday's non-farm payrolls report.

We're still digesting some of yesterday's losses and the data, said Paul Nolte, director of investments at Hinsdale Associates in Hinsdale, Illinois, who said the rally was built, in part, on anticipation of a recovery.

Financial shares once again led decliners and kept the major indexes' gains extremely modest. The KBW Bank Index <.BKX> lost 1.3 percent, with regional banks, such as SunTrust Banks down 7 percent at $20.21.

Moving up were shares of gold producers as the price of gold rallied to $975.60 an ounce. Shares of Gold Fields Ltd.

gained 9.6 percent to $13.00 and the NYSE Arca Gold Bugs Index <.HUI> rose 7.4 percent to 376.78.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> rose 13.07 points, or 0.14 percent, to 9,334.47. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> inched up 0.65 of a point, or 0.07 percent, to 998.69. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> advanced 3.80 points, or 0.19 percent, to 1,972.68.

The S&P 500 has climbed about 50 percent from a 12-year closing low in early March, prompting some investors to speculate that a correction may be on the way.

On the plus side, shares of International Business Machines Corp helped support the blue-chip Dow average. A senior IBM executive in China told Reuters that IBM is targeting China's retail, auto and insurance sectors as emerging industries that are growing faster than the country's overall economy.

IBM's stock was up 0.03 percent, or 3 cents, at $116.72.

There's so much built into the market, I think it's going to go sideways for a while, Nolte said.

I don't see much upside or downside potential.

A bright spot in Wednesday's market was the health insurance group, with the Morgan Stanley Healthcare Payor index <.HMO> advancing 4.1 percent to 1,212.33. WellCare Health gained 2.4 percent to $23.74 while Aetna Inc climbed 4.1 percent to $29.01. Insurance stocks have been under pressure of late.

The government said new orders received by U.S. factories rose 1.3 percent in July, less than expected.

(Editing by Jan Paschal)