Wall Street edged nominally higher on Wednesday after stumbling out of the starting gate on the first trading day of the new year, as fears of a global economic slowdown were exacerbated after Apple Inc cut its current quarter revenue forecast.
After struggling for direction for much of the session, all three major US stock indexes closed in positive territory. Whether those gains would hold in the days ahead, however, was cast into doubt after Apple Inc slashed its outlook after the market closed, citing weak sales in China.
Apple's stock dropped 8 percent in extended trading after the news, while shares of its suppliers also weakened and S&P 500 e-mini futures slid around 0.5 percent, signalling that Wednesday's modest advance was likely to be unwound when the market reopens on Thursday.
"Apple says they knew there was going to be weakness, but the extent of the weakness certainly surprised them," said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment strategist at Inverness Counsel in New York. "The level of the miss is a bit shocking."
"To see Apple's sales drop off this much, says something about the Chinese economy," Ghriskey added. "Any company that does business in China will feel the impact of this."
Stocks had started Wednesday's session lower after separate reports showed a deceleration in factory activity in China and the euro zone, indicating that the ongoing trade dispute between the United States and China was taking a toll on global manufacturing.
Energy stocks led the S&P 500's advance and the sector was the index's biggest percentage gainer, buoyed by a 2.4 percent jump in crude prices. The group was the worst performing S&P sector in 2018.
Gains were offset by healthcare and so-called defensive sectors, such as real estate, utilities and consumer staples. Healthcare companies provided the biggest drag on the S&P 500 and the Dow.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 18.78 points, or 0.08 percent, to 23,346.24, the S&P 500 gained 3.18 points, or 0.13 percent, to 2,510.03 and the Nasdaq Composite added 30.66 points, or 0.46 percent, to 6,665.94.
Of the 11 major sectors in the S&P 500, seven closed in positive territory.
Banks got a boost from Barclays, as the broker wrote in a research note that the sector could outperform the S&P this year. The Dow Jones Industrial average was led higher with gains from Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan.
Tesla Inc delivered fewer-than-expected Model 3 sedans in the fourth quarter and cut US prices. The electric automaker's shares slid 6.8 percent.
General Electric Co jumped 6.3 percent in heavy trading as bargain hunters bought the stock in the wake of its over 50-percent plunge in 2018.
In the coming weeks, the fourth-quarter reporting period will be underway. Analysts see S&P 500 companies posting profit gains of 15.8 percent, significantly smaller than the third quarter's 28.4 percent advance.
Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 2.10-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 2.42-to-1 ratio favoured advancers.
The S&P 500 posted no new 52-week highs and 4 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 9 new highs and 58 new lows.
Volume on US exchanges was 7.80 billion shares, compared to the 9.18 billion average for the full session over the last 20 trading days.