NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Wall Street was little changed in early trading on Thursday as the impact of a rise in oil prices and strong results at Wal-Mart was offset by weakness in consumer discretionary and financial stocks.
Dow component Wal-Mart rose as much as 3.1 per cent to US$75.19 (S$100.9) - a more than 14-month high - after the retailer posted a better-than-expected quarterly profit. The stock provided the biggest boost to the Dow and the S&P 500.
Oil stocks rose as Brent crude touched US$50 a barrel for the first time in six weeks after major producers prepared to discuss a possible freeze in output. US crude was trading near US$47.
Investors also weighed up minutes of the Federal Reserve's July meeting that showed policymakers were divided over whether to raise interest rates in the near-term.
Officials were generally upbeat about the US economy but some expressed the need to keep their options open in the need of more data pointing to strength, the minutes showed.
While traders have almost completely ruled out a hike in September, they have priced in a 41.7 per cent chance for a move in December - down from 45.1 per cent on Wednesday, according to CME Group's FedWatch tool.
"The market has reached a comfortable level and needs a fresh catalyst to send stocks higher," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities in New York. "The Fed was less hawkish than the market had expected. They would like to get one rate hike behind them this year because they've been too low for too long."
The S&P 500 has been higher in six of the last eight weeks and the market has touched new records on the back of better-than-expected corporate earnings, supportive monetary policy and a robust labor market.
At 9:49 a.m. ET (9:49 p.m Singapore time) the Dow Jones industrial average was down 9.59 points, or 0.05 per cent, at 18,564.35, the S&P 500 was down 0.48 points, or 0.02 per cent, at 2,181.74 and the Nasdaq Composite was down 3.36 points, or 0.06 per cent, at 5,225.30.
Six of the 10 major S&P sectors were higher, with the energy index's 0.48 percent rise leading the advancers.