The S&P 500 has ended nominally lower as a string of corporate earnings ran the gamut from downbeat to dismal, reviving worries over the economic impact of the US Federal Reserve's restrictive policy.
All three major US stock indices pared their losses throughout Wednesday afternoon to close well off session lows, with the blue-chip Dow eking out a small gain in the final minutes.
The tech-laden Nasdaq was weighed down after Microsoft Corp, the first major technology firm to post quarterly results, offered dour guidance and raised red flags with respect to its megacap peers, which have yet to report.
"We've had up and down days, that indicates an ongoing tug-of-war," said Chuck Carlson, chief executive officer at Horizon Investment Services in Hammond, Indiana.
"The dour guidance good news from the standpoint of what the Fed is doing is working."
"That outcome has become the catalyst for the market one way or the other," Carlson added. "Earnings matter but what's really got the market's focus is the Fed interest rate/inflation story."
Fourth-quarter earnings season has shifted into overdrive, with 95 of the companies in the S&P 500 having reported. Of those, 67 per cent have beat consensus estimates, well below the 76 per cent average beat rate over the past four quarters, according to Refintiv.
Analysts now see aggregate S&P 500 earnings dropping 3.0 per cent year-on-year, nearly double the 1.6 per cent drop seen on January 1, per Refinitiv.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 9.88 points, or 0.03 per cent, to 33,743.84, the S&P 500 lost 0.73 points, or 0.02 per cent, to 4,016.22 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 20.92 points, or 0.18 per cent, to 11,313.36.
Five of the 11 major sectors of the S&P 500 ended lower, with utilities suffering the largest percentage loss.
Abbott Laboratories dropped 1.4 per cent, as weaker-than-expected medical device sales weighed on the stock.
Among gainers, News Corp jumped 5.7 per cent after Rupert Murdoch withdrew a proposal to reunite News Corp and Fox Corp.
AT&T Inc also delivered disappointing guidance but its renewed focus on its telecoms business helped boost subscriber numbers, sending its shares up 6.6 per cent.
General Dynamics Corp beat quarterly expectations, but a weak 2023 forecast helped send the defense contractor's shares sliding 3.6 per cent.
Shares of Tesla Inc whipsawed in extended trading after the electric auto maker beat fourth-quarter revenue estimates.
IBM advanced after hours in the wake of posting its highest annual revenue growth in a decade.
Shares of Levi Strauss & Co jumped more than 6 per centin extended trade after the jeans maker provided upbeat 2023 guidance.
Finally, in a post-script to Tuesday's technical glitch which halted the opening auctions for a spate of stocks and prompted a review by the US Securities and Exchange Commission, the New York Stock Exchange said a manual error resulted in the problem that caused widespread confusion at the opening bell.