By Stephen Culp
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The S&P 500 ended nominally lower on Wednesday as a string of corporate earnings ran the gamut from downbeat to dismal, reviving worries over the economic impact of the U.S. Federal Reserve's restrictive policy.
All three major U.S. stock indexes pared their losses throughout the afternoon to close well off session lows, with the blue-chip Dow eking out a small gain in the final minutes.
The tech-laden Nasdaq was weighed down after Microsoft Corp, the first major technology firm to post quarterly results, offered dour guidance and raised red flags with respect to its megacap peers which have yet to report.
"We’ve had up and down days, that indicates an ongoing tug-of-war," said Chuck Carlson, chief executive officer at Horizon Investment Services in Hammond, Indiana. "The dour guidance good news from the standpoint of what the Fed is doing is working."
"That outcome has become the catalyst for the market one way or the other," Carlson added. "Earnings matter but what’s really got the market’s focus is the Fed interest rate/inflation story."
Fourth-quarter earnings season has shifted into overdrive, with 95 of the companies in the S&P 500 having reported. Of those, 67% have beat consensus estimates, well below the 76% average beat rate over the past four quarters, according to Refintiv.
Analysts now see aggregate S&P 500 earnings dropping 3.0% year-on-year, nearly double the 1.6% drop seen on Jan. 1, per Refinitiv.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 9.88 points, or 0.03%, to 33,743.84, the S&P 500 lost 0.73 points, or 0.02%, to 4,016.22 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 20.92 points, or 0.18%, to 11,313.36.
Five of the 11 major sectors of the S&P 500 ended lower, with utilities suffering the largest percentage loss.
Abbott Laboratories dropped 1.4%, as weaker-than-expected medical device sales weighed on the stock.
Among gainers, News Corp jumped 5.7% after Rupert Murdoch withdrew a proposal to reunite News Corp and Fox Corp.
AT&T Inc also delivered disappointing guidance but its renewed focus on its telecoms business helped boost subscriber numbers, sending its shares up 6.6%.
General Dynamics Corp beat quarterly expectations, but a weak 2023 forecast helped send the defense contractor's shares sliding 3.6%.
Shares of Tesla Inc whipsawed in extended trading after the electric auto maker beat fourth quarter revenue estimates.
IBM advanced after hours in the wake of posting its highest annual revenue growth in a decade.
Shares of Levi Strauss & Co jumped more than 6%in extended trade after the jeans maker provided upbeat 2023 guidance.
Finally, in a post-script to Tuesday's technical glitch which halted the opening auctions for a spate of stocks and prompted a review by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) said a manual error resulted in the snafu which caused widespread confusion at the opening bell.
Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.25-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.13-to-1 ratio favored advancers.
The S&P 500 posted 8 new 52-week highs and 1 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 61 new highs and 30 new lows.
Volume on U.S. exchanges was 10.89 billion shares, compared with the 10.78 billion average over the last 20 trading days.
(Reporting by Stephen Culp; Additional reporting by Shreyashi Sanyal and Johann M Cherian in Bengaluru; Editing by Aurora Ellis)