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US: Wall St flat as strong earnings counter fall in oil

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[NEW YORK] US stock indexes were little changed on Wednesday as encouraging earnings reports offset oil prices sliding on renewed concerns about global oversupply.

Crude fell about 2 per cent after Kuwaiti oil workers called off a strike that drove up prices and helped the S&P 500 breach 2,100 on Tuesday, about 30 points shy of its record high.

A recent rebound in oil and the US Federal Reserve's accommodative monetary policy helped the index recover from a steep selloff earlier this year.

Investors are focused on the earnings season as they seek catalysts to drive stocks higher. Big-bank earnings reports last week were better than expected and helped lift sentiment.

Market voices on:

"If earnings continue to surprise on the upside, you could see people ... join the rally and that money from the sidelines will move into the market," said Nadia Lovell, US Equity Specialist at JP Morgan Private Bank.

Lovell expects the market to edge up on Wednesday, but cautioned that investors remained wary.

First-quarter earnings at S&P 500 companies are expected to have fallen 7.6 per cent on average and revenues are seen dipping 1.3 per cent, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

At 9:40 am ET, the Dow Jones industrial average was up 0.45 points, or 0 per cent, at 18,054.05, the S&P 500 was down 1.17 points, or 0.06 per cent, at 2,099.63 and the Nasdaq Composite was down 8.70 points, or 0.18 per cent, at 4,931.63.

Six of the 10 major S&P sectors were higher. Healthcare rose 0.35 per cent, while consumer staples fell 0.69 per cent, dragged down by Coca-Cola.

Coca-Cola fell 4.5 per cent to $44.50 after the company's quarterly sales dropped 4 per cent. The stock was the second biggest drag on the Dow.

Intuitive Surgical'S 3.9 per cent rise to $648 propped up the healthcare sector. The company's better-than-expected quarterly profit prompted brokerages to raise their price targets on the stock.

Better-than-expected quarterly profits pushed VMWare up 14 per cent, Discover Financial Services 5.7 per cent, Yahoo 2.5 per cent and EMC up 2.8 per cent.

Lexmark jumped 10.1 per cent to $38.16 after it agreed to be taken private by a group of investors led by China-based Apex Technology Co and PAG Asia Capital in a deal valued at US$3.6 billion net of cash.

Data due at 10 am ET (1400 GMT) is expected to show existing home sales rose to 5.3 million in March, after dropping 7.1 per cent in February.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,369 to 1,249. On the Nasdaq, 1,187 issues fell and 1,001 rose.

The S&P 500 index showed 12 new 52-week highs and no new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 22 new highs and three lows.