Wall St pares rally

Wall Street closed the session higher after investors retreated from earlier gains

United States stocks steadied to close near unchanged levels, as investors digested the market's recent gains following sluggish factory-orders data. 

The market pared earlier gains seen on the back of upbeat data out of Europe and China. 

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 4.40 points, or 0.03 per cent, to 15,619.95 points, after being up as much as 43.35 points early in the session. 

The S&P 500 index edged up 3.72 points, or 0.21 per cent, to 1,765.36 points.

The Nasdaq Composite Index tacked on 7.82 points, or 0.20 per cent, to 3,929.87 points. 

The S&P 500, which has gained 24 per cent in the year to date, hovered within reach of its all-time closing high of 1,771.95 seen early last week. The Dow was also below last week's record high of 15,680.35. 

John Stoltzfus, chief market strategist at Oppenheimer Asset Management, said it is natural for skeptics to look for a pause or a pullback after such strong gains for the year.

"The market may have gotten a little ahead of itself, considering we're in a sluggish economic growth environment," Mr Stoltzfus said. 

Factory orders for September increased 1.7 per cent on the month, just shy of expectations of a 1.8 per cent rise. Data for August, which was delayed due to the government shutdown, showed factory orders declined 0.1 per cent versus forecasts for 0.3 per cent growth. 

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note edged down to 2.600 per cent from 2.618 per cent late Friday. 

Michael Strauss, chief investment strategist at Commonfund, which oversees about $24 billion in assets, isn't ruling out bouts of weakness heading into year-end, considering the strength seen so far this year, but he believes declines will remain relatively shallow. He said earnings have held up fairly well, and are providing some "underlying support" for stocks. 

"The trend that we've been in is probably still your friend," Mr Strauss said.

"We may not continue at the same acceleration pace that we've had [over the past year] ... but we're still recommending overweights to equity exposure." 

With 75 per cent of the S&P 500 companies having reported third-quarter results, earnings are on pace of year-over-year growth of 3.1 per cent, according to FactSet. That is slightly above expectations of 3 per cent earnings growth before the start of earnings-reporting season. 

"It's progress, not perfection," Oppenheimer's Mr Stoltzfus said. In terms of valuation, based on prices relative to reported earnings, he said the market isn't priced much higher than it has been, on average, over the past 41/2 years. 

Some upcoming concerns investors may face include a potential reduction in monetary stimulus by the Federal Reserve, with some anticipating a move as early as year-end. Many believe the Fed's highly accommodative policies, particularly the $US85 billion-a-month bond buying program, have helped power the market's rally to record highs. 

St. Louis Fed president James Bullard said on CNBC early Monday that the Fed can be patient in removing stimulus given that inflation has remained subdued. Separately, Dallas Fed president Richard Fisher affirmed his stance that the Fed could start paring stimulus sooner than expected. 

Commonfund's Mr Strauss said Messrs Bullard and Fisher didn't say anything unexpected, but their comments helped confirm that given time, the Fed will eventually start reducing stimulus. But he is not concerned, as long as the economy continues to grow and inflation remains tame. 

"We would look for continued opportunity to keep equity exposure at or above targets," Mr Strauss said. 

In corporate news, BlackBerry tumbled after the company abandoned its plans to be taken private, saying instead that it raised $1 billion through the issuance of convertible debt. In addition, Thorsten Heins will step down as chief executive and resign from the board of directors. 

Twitter increased the price range of its expected initial public offering of 70 million shares later this week to $23 to $25 a share from $17 to $20 a share, bringing the offering's value to $1.75 billion. 

Within the Dow, Johnson & Johnson fell after the company agreed to pay $2 billion to settle investigations into the marketing of its antipsychotic drug Risperdal. The company's Janssen Pharmaceuticals subsidiary pled guilty to a misdemeanour, 

Meanwhile, Merck rallied after an experimental vaccine showed promise in providing broader protection against a cancer-causing virus than the company's Gardasil shot. 

December crude-oil futures rose 0.1 per cent to $94.73 a barrel, erasing earlier losses, while November gold futures gained 0.4 per cent to $1,318.70 an ounce. The dollar inched higher against the yen and fell slightly against the euro. 

European stocks were broadly higher, with the Stoxx Europe 600 climbing 0.3 per cent to the highest close since May 2008. Data provider Markit said its euro-zone manufacturing purchasing managers index for October edged up to 51.3 from September's 51.1, matching expectations. Readings above 50 indicate expansion. 

In China, the official non-manufacturing purchasing managers index rose to 56.3 in October, according to data released over the weekend. 

China's Shanghai Composite inched up less than 0.1 per cent, as the strong non-manufacturing PMI data were offset by jitters ahead of a key Communist Party meeting starting later this week, in which Party leaders will draft economic-overhaul plans. Japanese markets were closed for a holiday.