The Dow was lower while the S&P and Nasdaq were flat on Wednesday, following two days of strong gains, as the first batch of quarterly earnings reports trickled into the market.

Earnings season unofficially kicks off when Alcoa Inc reports after the bell, but two retailers posted better-than-expected quarterly results earlier in the day, and their shares rallied.

Costco Wholesale Corp rose 2.2 percent to $59.21 and Family Dollar Stores Inc was up 1.3 percent to $28.85.

Corporate earnings have been eagerly anticipated as investors look for signs the nascent economic recovery is translating into improved corporate profits.

Investors are looking for confirmation that the economic and earnings recovery is taking place, John Praveen, chief investment strategist at Prudential International Investment Advisors in Newark, New Jersey. If they don't get that, there's going to be a sell-off and some profit taking.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> lost 30.99 points, or 0.32 percent, to 9,700.26. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> shed 0.56 points, or 0.05 percent, to 1,054.16. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> was down 0.47 points, or 0.02 percent, to 2,102.95.

Ahead of Alcoa's results, the aluminum giant traded up 0.7 percent at $13.99.

There's a little bit of wait-and-see with Alcoa. Those results are going to set the tone for the market for the next couple of days, said Praveen.

Holly Corp rose 1.1 percent to $25.62, while ConocoPhillips added 1.7 percent to $49.22. Data from the U.S. Energy Department showed an unexpected drop in crude stockpiles, which had lifted crude oil prices.

Insurance risk specialist Verisk Analytics Inc raised $1.88 billion on Tuesday, the biggest initial public offering by a U.S. company since March 2008. Shares soared 24 percent from the $22 offering price to $27.36.

Coca-Cola Co rose 0.5 percent to $54.60, while Bank of America Corp was the top percentage gainer among Dow components, advancing 1.5 percent to $17.25.

The two Dow components were upgraded by analysts, with Deutsche Bank lifting to buy, and Wells Fargo upping to outperform.

(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)