By Kate Gibson
NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- U.S. stocks mostly fell Wednesday after hitting five-month highs the prior day as downgrades hit the technology sector and disappointing data on the jobs front kept gains in check.
"The ADP jobs survey came up short of expectations and reinforced the bull run on Treasurys, while undermining confidence on stocks, compounded by a downgrade in the semiconductor sector," said analysts at Action economics.
A late-Tuesday revenue warning from Equinix Inc. (EQIX) prompted analysts at Oppenhimer, Citigroup and Wells Fargo to cut ratings on the provider of data-center hosting services, with its shares falling 34%.
The Nasdaq Composite Index (RIXF) fell 25.45 points, or 1.1%, to 2,374.38.
Trading in a nearly 60-point range on either side of neutral, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) was recently up 2.95 points at 10,947.67. Fifteen of its 30 components were on the rise, led by General Electric Co. (GE), shares of which gained 2.1%.
GE, the biggest U.S. conglomerate, announced a $3 billion deal to buy engine manufacturer Dresser Inc. and said it would purchase $1.6 billion in retail credit assets from Citigroup Inc. (C)
GE also said Britain's Wellstream Holdings PLC had spurned a $1.2 billion takeout offer.
Also supporting the Dow's rise, Alcoa Inc. (AA) rose 1.9% ahead of the aluminum maker reporting quarterly results on Thursday in the unofficial start of the earnings season.
The S&P 500 Index (SPX) fell 3.3 points, or 0.3%, to 1,157.45, telecommunications and technology the hardest hit among its 10 industry sectors.
For every two stocks on the rise roughly three were falling on the New York Stock Exchange, where nearly 693 million shares had traded as of 3:30 p.m. Eastern.
The Japanese yen hit a 15-year high versus the dollar, with the greenback's weakness a factor (DXY) as crude-oil futures finished above $83 a barrel, and gold ended at a record high, nearing $1,350 an ounce.
Treasury prices gained as yields fell to their lowest level after the ADP report. Read more about weakness in 10-year and 2-year Treasury yields.
On Thursday, dozens of retailers report September sales figures, with upscale retailers Saks Inc. (SKS) and Nordstrom Inc. (JWN) among those analysts expect to report rises in same-store sales of as much as 5%.
Further out, the National Retail Federation expects retail sales in the upcoming holiday shopping season to climb 2.3% this year, with the increase tepid compared to the 10-year average of 2.5%, but far better than last year's 0.4% increase and the 3.9% decline tallied in 2008.
Ahead of Wall Street's start, stock futures turned heels on gains after payrolls processor ADP reported private employers trimmed 39,000 jobs in September, the first decline in seven months.
The decline, which ran counter to expectations for an increase, was offset in part by ADP's upward revision to its August count for private-sector payrolls.
While feeding bearish sentiment, the ADP report also bolstered the notion that the Federal Reserve might be moved to take additional steps to stoke the embattled U.S. recovery.
The Fed, which already has U.S. interest rates near zero, might announce further purchases of government bonds when it concludes a policy-setting meeting early next month.
The ADP report comes two days before the Labor Department's monthly payrolls report.