Wall Street little changed as energy stocks gain

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) March 1, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Abhiram Nandakumar

(Reuters) - Wall Street was little changed on Wednesday as gains in energy stocks were offset by declines in utilities and materials.

Crude prices recovered from earlier losses and were up more than 1 percent.

A report by payrolls processor ADP on Wednesday showed the U.S. private sector added more jobs than expected in February, suggesting solid job growth despite market turmoil and worries about a slowing global economy.

The report serves as a precursor to the more comprehensive monthly jobs report by the U.S. Labor Department on Friday.

"We're in a holding pattern until Friday, when we get the payrolls number," said Jeff Kravetz, regional investment director at U.S. Bank Wealth Management in Phoenix, Arizona.

"There's still a lot of money out there that's looking for a home and if we continue to get good economic data, it is going to be positive for stock markets here," he said.

Stocks surged on Tuesday, driven partly by encouraging factory and construction data, helping the S&P 500 claw back most of its losses from the last two months.

The index, which had fallen as much as 10.5 percent, is now down 3.6 percent for the year.

At 11:10 a.m. ET (1610 GMT), the Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> was up 5.13 points, or 0.03 percent, at 16,870.21, the S&P 500 <.SPX> was up 1.4 points, or 0.07 percent, at 1,979.75 and the Nasdaq Composite index <.IXIC> was up 1.47 points, or 0.03 percent, at 4,691.07.

Five of the 10 major S&P sectors were higher, led by the energy sector's <.SPNY> 0.86 percent rise. Exxon <XOM.N> gave the biggest boost.

The U.S. economy continues to show signs of recovery even as China and euro-zone countries struggle to spark their sputtering economic growth engines, pushing central banks to adopt diverging monetary policies.

Investors are increasingly facing the prospects of higher interest rates from the U.S. Federal Reserve, while also expecting more monetary stimulus from the European Central Bank and the People's Bank of China.

Shares of Monsanto <MON.N> were down 7.8 percent at $85.25 after the company slashed its 2016 profit forecast. The stock was the biggest drag on the S&P 500.

The Fed will also issue its Beige Book report of anecdotes on business activity at 2 p.m. ET.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,461 to 1,397. On the Nasdaq, 1,434 issues rose and 1,142 fell.

The S&P 500 index showed four new 52-week highs and no new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 15 new highs and 16 new lows.

(Reporting by Abhiram Nandakumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D'Silva)