Major Wall Street indexes finished the day just short of where they started, despite plenty of news.
Netflix soared, big corporations turned in quarterly results, and investors welcomed new companies into the market.
But stocks drifted lower at the start of trading, followed oil prices higher in the early afternoon, then flipped back to slight losses in the last hour before the closing bell.
David Lebovitz, global market strategist at JP Morgan Asset Management, said investors are trying to figure out if the recent run of uninspiring economic news will hit corporate profits.
At the same time, big banks and other corporations have turned in better results than Wall Street expected this week.
“There’s a bit of a tug of war right now,” he said. “So far, it looks like the earnings season is off to a decent start.”
The Standard & Poor’s 500 index edged down 1.64 points, a fraction of a percent, to 2,104.99.
The Dow Jones industrial average slipped 6.84 points, less than 0.1%, to 18,105.77, and the Nasdaq composite lost 3.23 points, also less than 0.1%, to 5,007.79.
Netflix said it added 4.9 million subscribers in the first three months of the year, better than any other quarter since the company started streaming video eight years ago.
All told, Netflix finished March with 62 million subscribers around the world. Traders drove the company’s stock up 86.59 dollars, or 18%, to 562.05 dollars, the biggest gain in the S&P 500.
Citigroup’s quarterly net income rose as the bank trimmed expenses and legal costs, which compensated for a decline in revenue.
The results beat Wall Street’s estimates, sending Citi’s stock up 81 cents, or 2%, to 54.02 dollars.
The first-quarter earnings season is supposed to be the worst in years, with analysts forecasting a 3% drop in earnings compared with the year before.
The early results suggest things might not turn out that way. Earnings from more than seven out of 10 companies have come in higher than Wall Street’s estimates, according to S&P Capital IQ.
The economic news out yesterday gave traders little direction. The US labour department reported that the number of Americans applying for unemployment aid last week inched up for the second week in a row.
The four-week average, a less volatile measure, edged up to 282,750, still close to the lowest level in nearly 15 years.
In Europe, mounting fears that Greece could default on its debts shot the country’s borrowing costs higher.
The latest jitters followed a report in the Financial Times that Greece made an “informal approach” to the International Monetary Fund to have its bailout repayments delayed.
Many in the markets think the Greek government will struggle to make a payment due next month to the IMF if it fails to reach a deal in negotiations with European creditors.
“There seems little chance of talks being resolved,” said Neil MacKinnon, global macro strategist at VTB Capital. “A debt default looms.”
European stock markets fell. Germany’s DAX dropped 1.9% and France’s CAC 40 lost 0.6%. Britain’s FTSE 100 slid 0.5%.
Back in the US, Etsy nearly doubled in its first day of trading, jumping 14 dollars, or 88%, to 30 dollars.
The online market for handmade crafts and vintage goods raised 267 million dollars in its initial public offering late on Wednesday, selling shares at 16 dollars each.
The price of oil rose for the sixth day in a row on expectations that growth in US supplies is slowing.
Benchmark US crude inched up 32 cents to close at 56.71 dollars a barrel in New York.
Brent crude for June delivery, a benchmark for international oils used by many US refineries, rose 66 cents to close at 63.98 dollars a barrel in London. The Brent contract for delivery in May expired on Wednesday at 60.32 dollars.