Small gain on Wall St as investors eye rate hike

 Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Nov 10, 2015.
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Nov 10, 2015.REUTERS

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Wall Street ended modestly higher after a choppy session on Tuesday as gains in consumer discretionary stocks offset a drop in Apple and investors hunkered down for a potential interest rate hike next month.

Apple's shares fell 3.15 per cent after Credit Suisse said the iPhone maker had cut component orders by as much as 10 per cent, indicating weakening demand for its newest smartphones.

The stock was the biggest drag on the three major indexes. After falling in the four previous sessions, the S&P 500 flittered between losses and gains for much of the session before finishing 0.15 per cent higher at 2,081.72 points.

"We could face a little more of this kind of trading as we see people position around the idea of a rate increase," said Kurt Brunner, a portfolio manager at Swarthmore Group in Philadelphia.

"Over next couple weeks, it could be a little sloppy before we head into Thanksgiving."

The report on Apple inflamed already-existing fears of a slowdown in global growth, especially in China, a key market for many US companies including Apple, ahead of the crucial holiday shopping season.

Data on Tuesday showed persisting deflationary pressure in China and followed disappointing trade data over the weekend.

Companies will also be hit with higher borrowing costs if the US Federal Reserve raises interest rates from near-zero levels next month, as is widely expected after Friday's strong jobs report.

Still, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.16 per cent to finish the day at 17,758.21 points. The Nasdaq Composite dropped 0.24 per cent to 5,083.24.

The prospect of a rate hike sent the dollar to a seven-month high. A strong dollar eats into the overseas sales at US companies.

Following a dramatic selloff in August, fuelled by fears about a slowing Chinese economy, and then a recovery in October, helped by corporate report cards that were not as bad as expected, the S&P 500 remains up about 1 per cent for the year while the Dow is down marginally.

Seven of the 10 major S&P sectors were higher on Tuesday, with the consumer discretionary sector's 0.82 per cent advance leading the gainers, helped by an 0.86 per cent increase in Walt Disney and a 0.64 per cent rise in .

Apple suppliers Skyworks, Avago, Cirrus Logic and Qorvo were down between 3.9 per cent and 10 per cent.

Gap fell 1.44 per cent after its comparable sales fell more than expected in October.

Among other gainers, D.R. Horton surged 8.27 per cent after its quarterly profit jumped 44 per cent. Other homebuilders also rose.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 1,749 to 1,325. On the Nasdaq, 1,426 issues fell and 1,373 advanced.

The S&P 500 index showed five new 52-week highs and six new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 85 new highs and 100 new lows.

About 6.7 billion shares changed hands on US exchanges, below the 7.1 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters data.