Wall Street eked out a modest advance Tuesday after investors found little motivation in remarks by Federal Reserve officials and also shrugged off a warning from chip maker National Semiconductor.
Major indexes squeaked by with gains after spending most of the session extending Monday's losses. Investors have been left looking for direction after the Fed held interest rates steady last week and as corporate earnings season winds down.
Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke did not address interest rates when he spoke before the Omaha Chamber of Commerce. Similarly, speeches by two other central bankers and Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. also had little news to sway investors.
In Los Angeles, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco President Janet Yellen said the central bank was close to achieving its goals of maximum employment with price stability although inflation remained "a little" too high.
The U.S. economy is "on very solid turf" outside of declines in the housing and auto industries, Yellen said in a speech to the Asia Society Southern California and the Pacific Council on International Policy. She added that the 4.6% jobless rate was "in the vicinity of full employment."
National Semi warned that sales would fall steeper than expected; the news initially cast a shadow across the market, but by the close of trading, even the tech-dominated Nasdaq composite index had recovered.
And tech stocks might further rebound today after networking firm Cisco Systems' report that its second-quarter profit jumped 40%, beating expectations. The results came after the closing bell.
Cisco, which fell 23 cents to $27.28 in the regular session, rose to $28.48 in after-hours trading.
"I get the sense investors are waiting to see what the market is going to do next, and aren't entirely convinced that a slight pullback is going to manifest itself," said Mike Malone, trading analyst at Cowen & Co. "There really wasn't any expectation that something would come from Bernanke. But the fact it's over leaves investors looking around for what's next."
Gains in three major stock indexes were less than 0.1%. The Dow Jones industrials rose 4.57 points to 12,666.31. The Standard & Poor's 500 added 1.01 points to 1,448.00, and Nasdaq rose 0.89 of a point to 2,471.49.
Stocks got some support from a decline in bond yields as fixed-income investors placed bets on interest rates. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note fell to 4.77% from 4.80% on Monday.
Oil prices continued to climb on concerns that a blast of arctic weather in the Midwest and Northeast might linger and drive up demand for heating fuel. A barrel of light sweet crude rose 14 cents to $58.88 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
A jump in demand could lead to higher energy costs but also greater profits for energy producers. In the near term, however, investors seem focused on disappointing fourth-quarter earnings reports from energy companies.
BP, Britain's biggest refiner, fell 54 cents to $63.25 after reporting that fourth-quarter profit slipped 22% and slashing its growth targets for this year. Anadarko Petroleum shares fell 48 cents to $42.47 after it said fourth-quarter profit doubled because of a one-time gain on the sale of a Canadian unit.
Exxon Mobil fell 21 cents to $75.46, while Chevron shed 41 cents to $73.37.
Matt Kelmon, portfolio manager of the Kelmoore Strategy Funds, said investors would be looking at further fluctuations in the energy sector as one way the market might pick a direction. He also said scrutiny of corporate earnings would continue, although many big companies have already reported.
"The market is not expensive, it's not dirt-cheap, and the catalyst over the past few weeks has been earnings," he said. "Everything is really on hold until the market finds something else to talk about, but there's still no huge sign of an imminent pullback."
In other market highlights:
* Technology stocks were among the market's biggest decliners, led by the semiconductor sector. National Semi fell 64 cents, or 2.8%, to $22.68 after it predicted lower-than-expected sales in the third quarter because of lower shipments to the Asia Pacific region.
Rival Advanced Micro Devices fell 28 cents to $15.32, while Texas Instruments shed 37 cents to $31.22. Intel, the world's largest chip maker for personal computers, rose 3 cents to $21.31.
* Avon Products rose $3.38, or 9.8%, to $38 after the maker of beauty products said its fourth-quarter profit edged up from a year ago as the company struggled with restructuring costs.
* Las Vegas Sands fell $3.41 to $100.68 after the casino company reported that fourth-quarter profit was boosted by an unexpected $30-million gain from its high-rollers table.