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US: GM surges on strong outlook; S&P 500 ends flat

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[NEW YORK] General Motors rose sharply on Tuesday on an upbeat 2017 earnings forecast during a mixed day for Wall Street stocks following a choppy session.

The biggest US automaker climbed 3.7 per cent as it projected better-than-expected 2017 profits on expected strong sales in North America and China. GM also announced US$5 billion in new share repurchases, expanding an existing program to US$14 billion.

US stocks were positive much of the day, but bouts of selling prevented the Dow from making another serious drive towards 20,000 points.

"It looks like investors are taking a step back from risk-taking here," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank.

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The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished down 0.2 per cent at 19,855.53.

The broad-based S&P 500 was essentially flat at 2,268.91, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index added 0.4 per cent at 5,551.82, a fresh record.

Large banks rose ahead of earnings releases, with JPMorgan Chase winning 0.3 per cent, Bank of America 1.7 per cent and Wells Fargo 0.7 per cent. All three report results on Friday.

Petroleum-linked stocks were generally weak, with ExxonMobil shedding 1.3 per cent, Halliburton 2.6 per cent and Schlumberger 1.4 per cent.

Genetic analysis company Illumina shot up 16.7 per cent after a presentation at an investor health care conference impressed observers. The new technology is expected to trim operating costs and should enable the company "to stay a step ahead of the competition," Morningstar said.

Chipotle Mexican Grill gained 4.9 per cent as it reported that comparable sales in December rose 14.7 per cent from the year-ago level. The 2015 results were marred by worries about food safety after a series of illness outbreaks at restaurants.

Valeant Pharmaceuticals International jumped 6.8 per cent on news it will sell a trio of skincare brands to L'Oreal for US$1.3 billion.