NEW YORK – The stock market stumbled Wednesday as investors waited for the government’s jobs report later this week and the beginning of quarterly earnings releases from corporate America.
Traders put aside a positive report that showed private employers created more jobs in December than economists had expected. The market had a muted reaction to the minutes from the Federal Reserve’s mid-December policy meeting.
Wednesday’s declines extend what has been a muddled start to 2014. Both the Dow Jones industrial average and the Standard & Poor’s 500 index are down a little less than 1 percent after five days of trading.
The tough start should be taken in context of last year’s exceptional performance, when the S&P 500 surged almost 30 percent.
After bidding up companies’ stock prices to record levels last year, investors are ready to see if their bets are going to pay off. Big, publicly traded U.S. companies will start reporting their quarterly financial results Thursday.
“The question is whether this strengthening economy is translating into stronger corporate earnings,” said Russ Koesterich, global chief investment strategist at the investment firm BlackRock.
Dow member and oil giant Chevron will report after the closing bell Thursday, as well as former Dow member and aluminum company Alcoa. Next week investors will have results from Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, General Electric and American Express.
“Earnings will determine what’s next for the stock market,” said Lawrence Creatura, a portfolio manager with Federated Investors.
Another theme on investors’ agendas is jobs.
A private survey released Wednesday showed U.S. businesses added the most jobs in a year in December, powered by a big gain in construction work. Payroll processor ADP said companies added 238,000 jobs in December, better than the 200,000 economists predicted.
The ADP data sets the stage for Friday’s government jobs report. Investors expect the U.S. economy created 190,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate remained steady at 7 percent.
The Dow lost 68.20 points, or 0.4 percent, to 16,462.74. The losses erased more than half of the 105-point gain the index had on Tuesday.
The S&P 500 fell 0.39 points, or less than 0.1 percent, to 1,837.49 and the Nasdaq composite rose 12.43 points, or 0.3 percent, to 4,165.61.
In company news:
Twitter dropped 3.5 percent to $59.29, increasing its slide for the week to 14 percent. An analyst at Cantor Fitzgerald LP downgraded the shares to sell from hold and said the company’s valuation is excessive. Twitter shares debuted in November and rallied 145 percent through the end of 2013.