Traders work on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange. / Seth Wenig, AP
NEW YORK -- After approaching an all-time high in the afternoon, the Dow Jones industrial average lost steam and actually ended down 21 points for the day, a 0.15% loss.
A day after the market's biggest gains since the first trading session of 2013, stocks did not show a lot of verve.
Major indexes were up and down in a fairly narrow range, despite a slight lift from an upbeat report from the Chicago Institute for Supply Management. The group said its business index rose another 1.2 points in February to 56.8, its highest level since last March.
At around 2 p.m. ET, the Dow came within 20 points of its all-time record close of 14,164.53. But then it and the other two major indexes, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq composite, petered out as investors sought to take profits just as the big milestone neared.
The Dow ended the day at 14,054.49, while the S&P 500 and Nasdaq also declined, losing 0.1% each.
A shiny new record for the Dow would be a big deal. It shows just how resilient the stock market is, as it is close to erasing the 54% loss it suffered in the 2007-09 bear market, worst decline since the Great Depression, says Chuck Carlson, contributing editor of Dow Theory Forecasts newsletter.
"The Dow is still the people's index," says Carlson. "When you get that close to an all-time high in the Dow, that's fairly heady news. So people are watching closely."
If the Dow were to eclipse its old high, it will serve as a psychological boost to investors burned by the market collapse caused by the 2008 financial crisis.
"I think you have a lot of people that still are anchored on 2008. Now, you have a market that has been crushed but has recouped those losses . . . From a milestone and awareness perspective, that's important for the guy on Main Street," Carlson says.
One hour before the opening bell, the government said the economy grew at just a 0.1% annual rate in the fourth quarter. An earlier report estimated the economy shrank at a 0.1% rate in the final three months of 2012.
Although investors might be pleased that the revised GDP figure is higher now that the government has more data for the last quarter, the revision came in well below the 0.5% consensus estimate of economists.
On Wednesday, the Dow shot up 175 points to 14,075.37, after a 116-point surge Tuesday. The S&P 500 gained 19.05 points, or 1.3%, to 1,515.99. The Nasdaq composite index rose 32.61 points, or 1.3%, to 3,162.26.
Asian stock markets gained Thursday as positive economic indicators and the nomination of a pro-stimulus Bank of Japan chief bolstered hopes for faster growth.
Tokyo's benchmark led gains in regional stocks after the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe nominated Haruhiko Kuroda, currently president of the Asian Development Bank, to head Japan's central bank. The Nikkei 225 stock average was up 2.7% to 11,559.36.
Markets across Europe were on the rise, with the Stoxx Europe 600 benchmark index up around 0.5%.
In currency markets, the euro was almost flat at $1.3062. The dollar was at 92.6350 yen, a 0.5% gain.
Benchmark crude oil for April delivery declined 0.8% to $91.98 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Contributing: Associated Press
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