US stocks finished little changed on Wednesday as investors remained cautious and refrained from making big moves on the day before comments from Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen.
The Dow Jones industrial average gained 19 points or 0.12%, to end at 16,198. The S&P 500 closed flat at 1,845. The Nasdaq Composite added four points or 0.10%, to close at 4,292.
The S&P 500 once again briefly surpassed its 2013 year-end closing level of 1,848, which has served as resistance, but failed to hold above it.
Yellen will today address the Senate Banking Committee in semiannual testimony about monetary policy. Investors will scrutinise her comments for insight into how much an unexpectedly cold winter has affected economic activity, and for confirmation that the Fed will maintain its stimulus-trimming schedule.
Adding to investor anxiety were developments in Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin put 150,000 combat troops on high alert for war games near Ukraine.
On the economic front, new home sales surged to a 5-1/2-year high in January, far exceeding expectations.
First Solar Inc (FSLR.O) slid 9.1% a day after the US solar panel maker reported that its fourth-quarter net income fell 58%. Chesapeake Energy Corp. slid 4.9% after profit fell short of estimates.
After the bell, shares of Autodesk (ADSK.O) rose 3.7% following the release of the computer-aided design software maker's results.
Retailers' shares rallied on results for a second day. Target Corp (TGT.N) and Lowe's Cos Inc (LOW.N) shares surged following upbeat earnings and gave the biggest boosts to the S&P 500. Target's stock jumped 7 %, while Lowe's stock rose 5.4%.
Shares of J.C. Penney Co Inc (JCP.N) jumped 12.8% after the bell as the US department store chain forecast more improvement in its comparable sales and gross profit margin this fiscal year.
A day after upbeat results from Macy's and Home Depot, Macy's stock rose 3% and Home Depot jumped 0.9%.
In Asia, shares declined on Thursday in late morning session as emerging markets were rattled by escalating tensions in Ukraine, sending investors scurrying to the safety of the dollar and US Treasuries.
The MSCI Asia Pacific Index dropped 0.3% to 138 as of 10:41 a.m. in Tokyo. Japan’s Topix lost 0.4%. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 Index declined 0.4% and New Zealand’s NZX 50 Index slid 0.5%, while South Korea’s Kospi index and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index were both little changed. China’s Shanghai Composite Index dropped 0.2%.