NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks ended with modest gains on Thursday, shifting back and forth on incremental developments in Europe where leaders sought to reassure investors that a solution to the debt crisis would come soon.
The S&P has alternated gains and losses for seven days at the close and has kept to a tight range as markets watch for the latest news out of Europe.
Germany and France released a statement on Thursday saying leaders would now hold two summits to discuss the debt crisis, with a solution in place by Wednesday’s second meeting.
“The statement was enough for us to come off the lows, but there is still a long way to go,” said Robert Pavlik, chief market strategist at Banyan Partners LLC in New York.
Market anxiety remained elevated. The CBOE Volatility Index VIX .VIX, Wall Street’s “fear gauge,” rose more than 1 percent to near 35, extending gains after rising nearly 10 percent on Wednesday.
Supporting the market, U.S. economic data showed factory activity in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic region rebounded in October while a separate report showed U.S. jobless claims fell last week.
On the negative side, other data showed a drop in sales of existing-homes last month and only a small rise in a gauge of future growth.
Financial and materials stocks were the day’s top gainers. The S&P 500 financial sector index .GSPF rose 1.8 percent and materials .GSPM climbed 1 percent.
The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI ended up 37.16 points, or 0.32 percent, at 11,541.78. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX was up 5.51 points, or 0.46 percent, at 1,215.39. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC was down 5.42 points, or 0.21 percent, at 2,598.62.
Progress by EU leaders toward a solution is considered vital for Wall Street stocks to break out of their trading range.
The S&P 500 has struggled after reaching the top end of a two-month trading range at around the 1,230-1,250 level.
Investors are also closely watching the developing U.S. earnings season. According to Thomson Reuters data, of the 109 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings, 70 percent have topped analysts’ expectations.
After the closing bell, Microsoft shares (MSFT.O) fell 0.5 percent to $26.87 following quarterly results. During regular trading Microsoft finished at $27.04, down 0.3 percent.
Ingersoll Rand Plc (IR.N) posted lower quarterly earnings, and its fourth-quarter profit forecast fell short of some Wall Street estimates, due to depressed housing and consumer markets, sending shares down 7.9 percent to $27.38.
Polycom Inc PLCM.O fell more than 25 percent to $16.33 and weighed on the Nasdaq after the videoconferencing company reported quarterly revenue well below market expectations. The NYSEArca networking index .NWX lost 1.8 percent.
Trading volume was about 7.8 billion shares on the New York Stock Exchange, NYSE Amex and Nasdaq, below this year’s daily average of about 8 billion.
On the NYSE, advancers beat decliners by a ratio of three to two, while on the Nasdaq, decliners beat advancers by a ratio of 12 to 11.
Reporting by Angela Moon, Editing by Kenneth Barry