Wall Street took a step backward today. Then a tiny step forward. Then back.
The tentative dance amounted to little change for major US stock indexes, which ended the day just below their prior day's levels.
For the week, stocks remained down, extending the sharp downturn for the year.
"We're seeing some buyers coming in on the weakness, but not enough to push the market higher," said Joe Bell, senior equity analyst with Schaeffer's Investment Research.
Stocks were down in premarket trading and continued to slide for much of the day. A survey on U.S. hiring did little to ease uncertainty over the health of the American economy.
Many investors remain leery, waiting to see if upcoming economic reports and company earnings will show that the US economic recovery is on track.
"This is about as flat as it gets," said Rex Macey, chief investment officer of Wilmington Trust Investment Advisors. "It's a market looking for direction."
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 5.01 points, or 0.03%, to close at 15,440.23 Wednesday. The Standard & Poor's 500 index slipped 3.56 points, or 0.2%, to 1,751.64. The Nasdaq composite dropped 19.97 points, or 0.5%, to 4,011.55.
Six of the 10 sectors in the S&P 500 finished lower. Telecoms and energy stocks registered the biggest industry declines.
Investors hammered trucking company C.H. Robinson Worldwide, which a day earlier reported fourth-quarter results that missed Wall Street estimates. Its shares fell 9% to lead the S&P 500's decliners.
Cerner, a health care information technology provider, and cosmetics maker Estee Lauder were also among the stocks posting large losses. Cerner shares fell nearly 6%. Estee Lauder slumped 5.5%.
Markets started the week with a 326-point drop in the Dow, triggered by disappointing news about the US manufacturing.
The Dow, which fell as much as 104 points Wednesday, ended the day down 6.9% for this year. The S&P 500 closed down 5.2% so far in 2014.