NEW YORK Stocks drifted in light volume on Wednesday, ending little changed, as investors remained cautious after the S&P 500 index briefly hit its highest intraday level since November 2007.
The S&P 500 was buoyed by General Electric (GE.N) after cable company Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O) said it will buy from GE the the part of NBCUniversal it didn't already own for $16.7 billion.
Comcast's stock hit the highest since 1999 before closing up 3 percent at $40.13 and GE gained 3.6 percent to $23.39.
The S&P 500 is up 6.6 percent so far this year, partly due to stronger-than-expected corporate earnings and a better economic outlook. The Dow industrials is about 1 percent away from an all-time intraday high, reached in October 2007.
Volume has been weak in recent days with the S&P moving sideways around 1,520. The index is about 3 percent away from closing at a record high.
A scarcity of sellers after a consistent string of gains is a positive sign and shows the uptrend is intact, King Lip, chief investment officer at Baker Avenue Asset Management in San Francisco, said.
"Last year we had double-digit returns in the first quarter. It's fairly possible we can move higher from here," he said.
The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI fell 35.79 points or 0.26 percent, to 13,982.91, the S&P 500 .SPX gained 0.9 point or 0.06 percent, to 1,520.33 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 10.38 points or 0.33 percent, to 3,196.88.
The S&P gained 12 percent in the first three months of 2012.
Deere & Co (DE.N), the world's largest farm equipment maker, forecast a modest increase in sales this year despite the prospect of the biggest corn crop in U.S. history. The forecast fell short of analysts' expectations, sending shares of Deere down 3.5 percent to $90.68.
In extended trading, shares of technology bellwether Cisco Systems (CSCO.O) fell 2 percent after it posted results.
Dr Pepper Snapple (DPS.N) fell 5.8 percent to $42.69 after it forecast profit for the current year below analysts' estimates.
Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF.N) lost a fifth of its market value a day after the miner reported a quarterly loss and slashed its dividend by 76 percent. Its shares fell 20 percent to 429.29.
According to the latest Thomson Reuters data, of the 364 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported results, 70.3 percent have exceeded analysts' expectations, above a 62 percent average since 1994 and 65 percent over the past four quarters.
About 5.9 billion shares changed hands on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and NYSE MKT, below the daily average in February last year of 6.94 billion.
On the NYSE, roughly seven issues rose for every five that fell and on Nasdaq more than six rose for every five decliners.
(Editing by Kenneth Barry and Bernadette Baum)