NEW YORK — Stocks edged lower today after a report that showed the U.S. economy unexpectedly contracted in the fourth quarter, putting the brakes on a January rally that has pushed stocks toward record levels. But by noon, stocks were back to about where they started the day.
The Dow Jones industrial average fluctuated in the opening half hour of trading before turning lower and falling 2 points to 13,952 as of 11:58 a.m.. The Standard & Poor's 500 fell 2 points to 1,505. The Nasdaq composite rose 1 point to 3,155.
The U.S. economy shrank from October through December for the first time since the recession ended, hurt by the biggest cut in defense spending in 40 years, fewer exports and sluggish growth in company stockpiles, the Commerce Department said today.
U.S. gross domestic product, the volume of all goods and services produced, contracted at an annual rate of 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter. That's a sharp slowdown from the 3.1 percent growth rate in the July-September quarter.
Positive company earnings reports helped to offset the disappointing news about the economy.
Amazon jumped $13.93 to $274.20 after the world's biggest online retailer showed improving profit margins when it posted fourth-quarter earnings late Tuesday. Boeing, currently scrambling to fix battery problems that have grounded its 787 Dreamliner planes, gained 87 cents to $74.53 after it reported earnings that beat analysts’ expectations. Rising profits from commercial jets offset a smaller profit from defense work.
The Dow Jones average has surged since the start of the year, climbing close to 14,000 and within touching distance of its record level. Investors bought stocks after lawmakers reached a deal to avoid the “fiscal cliff” and on optimism the U.S. housing market is recovering and the jobs market is slowly healing.
The Dow is up 6.4 percent this year, and the S&P 500 has gained 5.6 percent.
“We have a negative print on GDP. To ignore this is folly,” said Doug Cote, chief market strategist at ING Investment Management. “Certainly, this market could continue to move forward but ignoring the fundamentals is not something I'd counsel my clients to do.”
Investors will parse the Federal Reserve's statement later today following the conclusion of the central bank's first two-day meeting this year.
Economists are expecting the Fed to affirm that it intends to keep short-term rates near zero until joblessness dips below 6.5 percent from the current 7.8 percent. The statement is scheduled to be released at 2:15 p.m.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which moves inversely to its price, climbed 3 basis points to 2.03 percent.
Among other stocks making big moves today:
— Chesapeake Energy rose 97 cents to $19.96 after the company said late Tuesday that its embattled CEO Aubrey McClendon will leave the company this spring.
—Avery Dennison, a packing materials company, rose $2.33 to $38.48 after it posted fourth-quarter earnings that beat analysts’ expectations and said it was selling two of its business units to CCL industries for $500 million. The company will use the proceeds of the sale to buy back stock and make additional pension contributions.