US stocks waver between small gains and losses

STEVE ROTHWELL AP Markets Writer Published:

NEW YORK (AP) -- Stocks were moving between small gains and losses in morning trading Thursday as Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen addressed the Senate Banking Committee. Investors were also looking over quarterly results from several U.S. retailers and other companies. Best Buy and J.C. Penney were among the early gainers.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 index was up one point, or less than 0.1 percent, at 1,846 as of 11 a.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 12 points, or 0.1 percent, to 16,210. The Nasdaq composite rose seven points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,299.

THE FED: Yellen is speaking at the Senate. Investors will be looking for any hints of change in the Fed's plans to continue winding down its huge bond-buying program, which has been keeping interest rates ultra-low and supporting financial markets. The Dow Jones logged its biggest point gain of the year Feb. 11, when Yellen made her first comments in front of Congress since taking over for Ben Bernanke earlier this month.

TURNING IT AROUND: J.C. Penney jumped $1.26, or 21 percent, to $7.21 after the department store chain swung to a small profit in the fourth quarter after posting a big loss in the same period a year earlier. Penney also reported its first quarterly gain in a key revenue figure in more than two years.

TURNING IT AROUND (2): Best Buy climbed $1.41, or 5.5 percent, to $27.23 after the company returned to a profit in the fourth quarter and topped Wall Street expectations as it cut costs to offset declining sales. The specialty electronics retailer says it gained market share during the quarter.

THREE MAKES A TREND: Sears climbed $2.09, or 5.2 percent, to $42.49 after the company said its fourth-quarter loss narrowed as the operator of Sears and Kmart stores lowered expenses and reduced inventories. Sears has been trying to restore profitability by cutting costs, trimming inventory, selling off some assets and spinning off others.

INVESTIGATION: General Motors fell 58 cents, or 1.6 percent, to $36.25 after the U.S. government's auto safety watchdog said it is investigating whether the automaker acted quickly enough to recall 1.6 million older-model small cars in a case linked to 13 deaths.

MIXED ECONOMY: American businesses ordered fewer long-lasting manufactured goods in January, cutting their demand for aircraft, autos and machinery. But a key category that reflects business investment rose a solid 1.7 percent. Demand rose for electronic products and fabricated metals, such as steel.

STILL GOOD FOR STOCKS: The current environment of moderately improving growth and low interest rates still make it an attractive environment for investing in stocks, said Dan Curtin, an investment specialist at JPMorgan Private Bank.

"The data points that we are seeing, although slightly weaker than we might have thought, are still positive for equity valuations," said Curtin.

BONDS AND COMMODITIES: The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.65 percent from 2.67 percent on Wednesday. The price of oil fell 24 cents, or 0.2 percent, to $102.34 a barrel. The price of gold climbed $5.60, or 0.4 percent, to $1,333.60 an ounce.