The U.S. stock market was headed for another day of losses Wednesday afternoon, as a survey on hiring did little to ease uncertainty over the health of the economy.
The decline was broad, snaring consumer products, transportation and technology companies, and effectively wiped out modest gains from a day earlier.
KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average was down 2 points, or 0.02 percent, to 15,442 at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time, but it was teetering between gains and losses. The Standard & Poor's 500 index slipped three points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,751. The Nasdaq composite fell 17 points, or 0.4 percent, to 4,013.
JOB GROWTH: A private survey on Wednesday showed that U.S. businesses added jobs at a steady but modest pace in January, a sign that hiring has rebounded after a disappointing figure in December. Payroll processor ADP said companies added 175,000 jobs last month. That's down from 227,000 in December, which was revised lower. But it was much better than the government's official figure of just 74,000 new jobs in December. The ADP numbers cover only private businesses and often diverge from the government's more comprehensive report due out Friday.
BIG DECLINERS: Freight transportation company C.H. Robinson Worldwide led the S&P 500's decliners, falling 5.11, or 8.7 percent to $53.52. Information technology company Cognizant Technology Solutions slid $4.14, or 4.3 percent, to $92.87. Cosmetics maker Estee Lauder was down $3.13, or 4.5 percent, to $66.07.
MONEY HANDLERS: Several financial services companies were posting gains. Genworth Financial was up 45 cents, or 3.1 percent, to $14.99 after reporting first-quarter earnings. Ameriprise Financial rose 13 cents, or 0.1 percent, to $103.60. The Hartford Financial Services Group gained 43 cents, or 1.3 percent, to $33.25.
IN THE GREEN: Cliffs Natural Resources led the S&P 500's risers, climbing 66 cents, or 3.5 percent, to $19.48. GameStop also rose, adding 81 cents, or 2.4 percent, to $34.76.
SECTORS SWOON: All 10 sectors in the S&P 500 were down in afternoon trading. Utilities and energy registered the biggest declines on the day. Among actively traded stocks, there were about 2 stocks declining for every riser.
WAIT AND SEE: Despite the market's tepid rise on Tuesday, many investors remain leery, waiting to see if upcoming economic reports and company earnings will show that the U.S. economic recovery is on track.
A look at trading volumes illustrates the dynamic, notes Chris Gaffney, a senior market strategist at EverBank.
"On the down days, we're seeing larger volumes than on the up days," Gaffney said. "That leads me to believe that we're still in a down market here. And it's really going to take a surprise on the upside in this Friday's jobs numbers to maybe get us out of this funk."
DOWNWARD TREND: Markets started the week with a 326-point drop in the Dow, triggered by disappointing news about the U.S. manufacturing. By midday Wednesday, they mostly stayed in the red and on track to extend their losses. The Dow, which fell as much as 104 points, was headed toward a decline of 6.8 percent for this year. The S&P 500 was trending toward a decline of 5.3 percent.
TREASURIES: The yield on the 10-year Treasury note edged up to 2.67 percent from 2.63 percent on Tuesday. The yield, which affects rates on mortgages and other consumer loans, has dropped from 3 percent at the start of the year as investors have bought bonds amid concern that U.S. growth is slowing.
EUROPE SLUGGISH: European stocks shifted between slight gains and losses after data showed disappointing retail sales across the 18-country eurozone in the crucial shopping month of December. Britain's FTSE 100 and the CAC-40 in France edged up 0.5 percent. Germany's DAX rose 0.4 percent.
ASIA MARKETS CLOSE: Markets in Mainland China remain closed for the Lunar New Year holiday until Friday. But the region's second-biggest market, Hong Kong, stayed lower. The Hang Seng slipped 0.6 percent and stocks in Taiwan also fell. Japan's market recovered slightly as the Nikkei 225 rose 1.2 percent. It remains down 13 percent for the year. Elsewhere in Asia, stock indexes rose in New Zealand, Indonesia, India, the Philippines and Thailand. They fell in Australia.