US stocks eke out tiny gains after erasing an early loss

Stocks ended the day mostly flat on Thursday, recovering from broad losses earlier in the day. Investors continue to focus on corporate earnings, and Thursday's batch brought mostly disappointing results from Procter & Gamble, Facebook and others.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 5.41 points, less than 0.1 percent, to end at 17,745.98. The index had been down 110 points at the beginning of the day.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index closed effectively unchanged, up 0.06 of a point at 2,108.63. The Nasdaq composite rose 17.05 points, or 0.3 percent, to 5,128.78.

Several companies made big moves after reporting their quarterly results. This is the busiest week for corporate earnings, with 174 members of the S&P 500 reporting.

Consumer products giant Procter & Gamble fell $3.23, or 4 percent, to $77.39. The maker of Tide detergent and Gillette razors reported softer sales than Wall Street analysts had expected. The company, like many others, has been negatively affected by the strong dollar, which makes U.S. products more expensive abroad.

Whole Foods plunged $4.74, or 12 percent, to $36.08. The company reported a sharp slowdown in sales growth last quarter, partially hurt by the recent news that some Whole Foods locations in New York City were overcharging customers.

Facebook fell $1.78, or 1.8 percent, to $95.21 after the company's results, while positive overall, included a sharp 82 percent jump in expenses as the company invested in growth. Facebook's stock hit an all-time high on July 21.

Many U.S. companies reporting second-quarter earnings have struggled to increase sales despite modest growth in the U.S. and elsewhere. That was evident Thursday in the results reported by P&G and Whole Foods.

FactSet estimates that revenue at companies in the S&P 500 has decreased 4 percent from a year ago, largely due to weakness in the energy sector. Even when energy is excluded, revenue is still up only 1.8 percent from the same period a year earlier.

"It's really a reflection of how lackluster this economic growth has been," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank in Chicago. "Profits can be manipulated by cutting costs, buying back shares, but your top line is your top line and if you aren't growing sales, it's very hard to mask that."

Investors had one batch of economic data to work through. The U.S. economy grew at a 2.3 percent annual rate in the April-June quarter, rebounding from a harsh winter. Leading the growth was a surge in consumer spending, the backbone of the U.S. economy, and a recovery in foreign trade. While positive, the data looks at the U.S. economy three months ago and did little to boost stocks.

In other markets, the price of oil resumed its slide after two days of gains. Benchmark U.S. crude fell 27 cents to close at $48.52 a barrel in New York. Crude is down nearly $11 a barrel, or 18 percent, for the month. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell 7 cents to close at $53.31 a barrel in London.

In other futures trading on the NYMEX, wholesale gasoline rose 0.6 cents to close at $1.828 a gallon. Heating oil closed unchanged at $1.598 a gallon. Natural gas fell 11.8 cents to close at $2.768 per 1,000 cubic feet.

The dollar rose 0.4 percent to 124.34 yen and the euro edged down 0.6 percent to $1.0903.

Precious and industrial metals futures ended mostly lower. Gold lost $4.60 to settle at $1,088.70 an ounce, silver gave up five cents to settle at $14.70 an ounce and copper fell three cents to $2.38 a pound.