Stocks finish flat in day of low-volume trading

NEW YORK — U.S. stocks ended a low-volume session Wednesday with mild gains for two benchmarks, while Dell's reduced revenue outlook and its possible implications for consumer spending helped send the Nasdaq composite lower.

"We'll likely continue to be in a volatile space here for a while; we're mostly out of earnings season, and guidance for the end of the year wasn't real specific for most companies," said Stuart Freeman, chief equity strategist at Wells Fargo Advisors.

Still, Freeman thinks the second half of the year will prove stronger than the first for the economy, and finds positive that "gasoline prices have come down from where they were six weeks ago; it's going to allow consumers to spend on other things."

The S&P 500 index ended up 1.13 points, or 0.1 percent, at 1,193.89, led by a 3.6 percent gain in Sprint Nextel shares.

Dell shares led decliners, sinking 10 percent in their worst day since October 2008, after the personal-computer maker reported tepid consumer demand and as gains in market share by Apple curtailed projected sales.

"Our target for the S&P 500 is 1,250 to 1,300 for the end of the year," said Freeman, who thinks economic growth will be "relatively tepid; we're still looking for 2 percent area in respect to the GDP this year."

Wall Street is returning to a relative calm after a manic bout — including a run of 400-point moves by the Dow industrials and losses that cleared the major indexes of their yearly gains — that came to an end late last week.

On Wednesday, the Dow Jones industrial average ended up 4.28 points at 11,410.21, led by a 2.2 percent gain in American Express Co. shares and dragged by a 3.7 percent drop in Hewlett-Packard Co. stock.

The Nasdaq composite index fell 11.97 points, or 0.5 percent, to 2,511.48.

Wall Street offered little reaction after the Labor Department reported U.S. producer prices gained 0.2 percent in July.

But rising costs were in the spotlight as several retail chains reported results.

Abercrombie & Fitch Co. shares fell 8.7 percent after the chief executive of the teen-clothing chain warned that pressure from the rising costs of materials and transportation would increase during the latter half of the year.

Target Corp. shares, however, gained 2.4 percent after the discount chain said profits rose more than expected.

Investors also tuned into comments from the Federal Reserve officials who voted against the central bank's recent policy move to keep interest rates very low until at least mid-2013.

In an interview with Bloomberg Radio, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia President Charles Plosser on Wednesday said the Fed should have held off on the low-rates pledge and said he expected the central bank would have to raise rates before mid-2013.

Plosser, one of three dissenters, also said the Fed's statement on the economy was overly negative.

Asked about comments this week by Republican presidential contender and Texas Gov. Rick Perry that he would consider as "treasonous" any decision by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke to "print more money between now and the election," Plosser said he considered it important for the public to be informed about internal debate within the Fed.

Separately, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas President Richard Fisher suggested Washington's "fiscal misfeasance" is restricting economic growth.