Stocks shifted into negative territory Tuesday afternoon after a brief upswing 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 data.
KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell nine points, or 0.5 percent, to 1,867 as of 2:43 p.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones industrial average shed 69 points, or 0.4 percent, to 16,350. The Nasdaq composite dipped 27 points, or 0.6 percent, to 4,306.
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 $2.82, or 5.3 percent, to $57.44. Jos. A. Bank rose $2.38, or 3.8 percent, to $64.22.
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 dipped $1.32, or 3.6 percent, to $35.74. A congressional committee is investigating the way the automaker and a federal safety agency handled a deadly ignition switch problem in compact cars.
COMEBACK KID: J.C. Penney jumped 28 cents, or 3.3 percent, to $8.70 after Citigroup upgraded the department store chain, praising the retailer's efforts to recover from a botched overhaul that alienated longtime customers.
SECTOR WATCH: Nine of the 10 sectors in the S&P 500 index fell. Energy stocks lost the most. The consumer staples sector rose. Among the companies in the S&P 500, McDonald's led the gainers, adding $3.32, or 3.4 percent, to $98.44. 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 2.76 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.