U.S. stocks closed little changed after China's move to stabilize its financial markets left investors to focus on the prospects for global growth amid renewed selling in crude oil and weaker-than-expected auto sales.
Stocks in China rose Tuesday in volatile trading, stabilizing after weaker factory data from the world's second-largest economy sparked a worldwide selloff on Monday. State-backed funds were said to intervene after yesterday's 7 percent plunge in the CSI 300 Index of large-capitalization companies listed in Shanghai and Shenzhen wiped out $590 billion of market value. European equities also climbed after a 2.5 percent rout on Monday.
Even as yesterday ranked as the sixth-worst start to a year for the S&P 500 since 1932, the move is less surprising when compared with how the gauge usually fares. The index has moved an average 1.1 percent in either direction on opening day, compared with an average daily move of 0.77 percent on all other days.
Following Monday's rout, investors stuck with what worked last year. Health-care and consumer staples shares, two of 2015's best performers, were among the leaders. Technology shares slipped the most under Apple's drag. Seven of the S&P 500's 10 main industries were higher, with phone companies posting the strongest advance.
Sentiment has turned more cautious on stocks amid the Federal Reserve's first interest-rate increase since 2006, and forecasts for little to no growth in corporate earnings before the spring. Strategists at Citigroup Inc. cut their view on U.S. equities to underweight Tuesday, saying that while they're not especially bearish, they see better opportunities in Europe and Japan. "After outperforming for six consecutive years, maybe U.S. equities are due a breather," the firm wrote in a note.
Fed officials expect the pace of future rate increases to be gradual, though they have stressed that the path depends on progress in economic data. A report Monday showed the fastest contraction in U.S. manufacturing in six years, adding to worries that weakness in China's economy is spreading. Investors will look for further clues this week in data on services industry growth, factory activity, employment and minutes from the Fed's December meeting.