Stocks eased back into the red Tuesday afternoon after briefly wandering higher earlier in the day as investors focused on companies such as General Motors, Men's Wearhouse and American Eagle Outfitters in the absence of major economic news.
KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 10 points, or 0.5 percent, to 1,867 as of 3:37 p.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones industrial average shed 66 points, or 0.4 percent, to 16,351. The Nasdaq composite dipped 28 points, or 0.6 percent, to 4,305.
SUITING UP: After a months-long back and forth, Men's Wearhouse has agreed to buy Jos. A. Bank for $1.8 billion. Investors cheered the news, lifting Men's Wearhouse $2.44, or 4.5 percent, to $57.01. Jos. A. Bank rose $2.39, or 3.9 percent, to $64.21.
TEEN RETAILER ANGST: American Eagle Outfitters tumbled $1.03, or 7 percent, to $13.18 after the store chain issued a fiscal first-quarter outlook that fell short of Wall Street's expectations. The company also reported an 89 percent slide in its fourth-quarter net income as winter storms weighed on sales. Urban Outfitters, another teen retailer, fell $1.69, or 4.5 percent, to $35.82 after reporting its own results.
RECALL REVIEW: General Motors dropped $1.89, or 5.1 percent, to $35.20. A congressional committee is investigating the way the automaker and a federal safety agency handled a deadly ignition switch problem in compact cars.
SHARP SWING: Plug Power and FuelCell each started off the day on a high note, with both stocks rising sharply after a Cowan and Co. analyst offered optimistic commentary on the alternative energy companies. But the happy tune didn't last after a Citron Research analyst offered a negative take on the companies. By afternoon, Plug Power was down $3.96, or 38 percent, to $6.30, while FuelCell plunged 69 cents, or 17.6 percent, to $3.23.
COMEBACK KID: J.C. Penney rose 24 cents, or 2.9 percent, to $8.67 after Citigroup upgraded the department store chain, praising the retailer's efforts to recover from a botched overhaul that alienated longtime customers.
SECTOR WATCH: The 10 sectors in the S&P 500 index fell. Energy stocks lost the most. Among the companies in the S&P 500, McDonald's led the gainers, adding $3.33, or 3.5 percent, to $98.52. The stock is rebounding after slumping a day earlier.
HOLDING PATTERN: Traders have little corporate or economic news to consider this week. That has many investors in a holding pattern, resulting in small moves in major stock indexes. Traders may get fresh insight into the economy later this week when a report on retail sales and a gauge of consumer confidence are released.
WATCHING THE JOB MARKET: The Labor Department said that employers posted 3.9 million job openings in January, up 1.5 percent from December, a sign that hiring should remain steady in coming months. However, the increase fell short of what the market was expecting.
Investors are watching for any signs the job market is strengthening as they try to gauge how the Federal Reserve will manage its economic stimulus efforts. The central bank is expected to continue paring the bond purchases it has been making to try to keep long-term loan rates low and support the economy. But if economic data signal that the economy is weakening, the Fed could opt to keep the stimulus spigot open.
"The most important data really is the jobs data," said David Roda, regional chief investment officer at Wells Fargo Private Bank. "We think that's going to be a major driver of Fed policy response."
YIELD PLAY: The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.77 percent from 2.78 percent. The yield, which affects rates on mortgages and other consumer loans, has been mostly rising this month from a low of 2.60 percent on March 3.