The averages were mixed despite some upbeat economic news. Minutes from last month's Fed meeting showed the central bank saw "meaningful" economic growth. It also cited an improving jobs market as the reason behind the decision to begin scaling back on the Fed's bond-buying program. In addition, ADP's monthly report showed the strongest private sector hiring in more than a year.
Ford (F) rose 1 percent after CEO Alan Mulally said in an AP interview late Tuesday that he was staying on at the automaker at least through the end of the year. This was a clear statement that he was removing himself from the running to succeed Steve Ballmer as Microsoft's chief executive. Microsoft (MSFT) fell 2 percent.
Earnings season is about to kick into high gear, and a few early reports drew some big reactions.
Micron Technology (MU) jumped 9.5 percent after posting a profit versus a loss a year ago. Rival SanDisk (SNDK) rode Micron's coattails, gaining 6 percent.
Monsanto (MON) gained 2 percent as its net rose on strong sales.
And the drive-in restaurant chain Sonic (SONC) fell nearly 5 percent despite strong earnings. Still, Sonic shares are up nearly 80 percent from a year ago.
Elsewhere, J.C. Penney (JCP) fell 10 percent. The retailer said it was "pleased" with its holiday performance, but investors were unsettled by the lack of details.
CEC Entertainment (CEC) jumped 14 percent. The company is reportedly looking to sell its Chuck E. Cheese restaurant chain.
Another restaurant chain, Panera Bread (PNRA), rose 4 percent on a Wells Fargo recommendation. A warm cup of soup on such a cold day probably helped too.
Finally, Forest Labs (FRX) jumped 18 percent after agreeing to buy privately held Aptalis, a maker of cystic fibrosis drugs.
What to Watch Thursday:
- The Labor Department releases weekly jobless claims at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.
- Freddie Mac releases weekly mortgage rates at 10 a.m.
- Selected chain retailers release December sales comparisons.