Wall Street little changed; Wal-Mart up after results

Wall Street was little changed in early trading on Thursday as the impact of a rise in oil prices and strong results at Wal-Mart was offset by weakness in consumer discretionary and financial stocks.

Dow component Wal-Mart (WMT.N) rose as much as 3.1 percent to $75.19 – a more than 14-month high – after the retailer posted a better-than-expected quarterly profit. The stock provided the biggest boost to the Dow and the S&P 500.

Oil stocks rose as Brent crude touched $50 a barrel for the first time in six weeks after major producers prepared to discuss a possible freeze in output. U.S. crude was trading near $47. [O/R]

Investors also weighed up minutes of the Federal Reserve’s July meeting that showed policymakers were divided over whether to raise interest rates in the near-term.

Officials were generally upbeat about the U.S. economy but some expressed the need to keep their options open in the need of more data pointing to strength, the minutes showed.

While traders have almost completely ruled out a hike in September, they have priced in a 41.7 percent chance for a move in December – down from 45.1 percent on Wednesday, according to CME Group’s FedWatch tool.

“The market has reached a comfortable level and needs a fresh catalyst to send stocks higher,” said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities in New York.

“The Fed was less hawkish than the market had expected. They would like to get one rate hike behind them this year because they’ve been too low for too long.”

The S&P 500 has been higher in six of the last eight weeks and the market has touched new records on the back of better-than-expected corporate earnings, supportive monetary policy and a robust labor market.

At 9:49 a.m. ET (1349 GMT) the Dow Jones industrial average .DJI was down 9.59 points, or 0.05 percent, at 18,564.35, the S&P 500 .SPX was down 0.48 points, or 0.02 percent, at 2,181.74 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC was down 3.36 points, or 0.06 percent, at 5,225.30.

Six of the 10 major S&P sectors were higher, with the energy index’s .SPNY 0.48 percent rise leading the advancers.

New York Fed President William Dudley, who on Tuesday unnerved the markets by saying a rate hike was possible in September, is scheduled to give a press briefing at 10:00 a.m.

San Francisco Fed President John Williams speaks on economic outlook in Anchorage, Alaska at 4:00 p.m. ET.

Data showed the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week, with initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropping to 262,000. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims slipping to 265,000.

Twitter (TWTR.N) fell 3.6 percent to $19.44 after Evercore downgraded its stock to “sell” from “hold”.

Cisco (CSCO.O) was off 1.6 percent at $30.23, after the company reported a 1.6 percent drop in revenue and said it would cut jobs.

Valeant Pharma’s U.S.-listed shares (VRX.N) were up 2.8 percent at $30.81 after the drugmaker said it received approval from a lender to amend its credit facility.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,641 to 977. On the Nasdaq, 1,245 issues rose and 1,006 fell.

The S&P 500 index showed eight new 52-week highs and no new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 26 new highs and 13 new lows.

Source: Reuters