"The market is reacting well to what two months ago would have been disastrous news, but that may change after next week, when we get news from corporate America and what they think for the rest of the year -- we may see some estimate guide-downs," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Jefferies & Co.
After up-and-down moves in a 100-point trading range, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was more recently off 13.84 points to 12,612.19, with 19 of its 30 components trading lower. General Motors Corp. led the losses, off 4%.
Blue-chip gains were led by United Technologies Corp. , up 1.3%, and Caterpillar Inc. , ahead 1.4%.
Financial stocks were among those to slide, with the Financial Select Sector SPDR down 1.4%. On the Dow, Citigroup Inc. fell 2.5%, while J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. shed 1.6%.
The S&P 500 gained 2.03 points to 1,371.34, with the energy sector fronting gains on the S&P, up 1.8%, followed by utility, ahead 1.6%.
Telecommunications declined the most, off 1.3, while the financial sector was down 1.2%.
The Nasdaq Composite climbed 5.47 points to 2,368.77.
Dealing with bad news
"It's amazing how this market absorbs bad news since the Bear Stearns debacle," said Dave Rovelli, managing director of equity trading at brokerage Canaccord Adams Inc.
"Everybody thinks we're towards the end of the big write-downs. Let's hope there are no more hidden bombs out there," said Rovelli.
Volume at the New York Stock Exchange neared 1.3 billion shares, while 701 million shares exchanged hands on the Nasdaq. Advancing stocks edged just past those declining by an 8-to-1 count on the NYSE while running just ahead of decliners on the Nasdaq.
An hour ahead of the opening bell, stock index futures shaved strong gains after the Labor Department said U.S. employers cut back their hiring in March for the third month in a row, with the unemployment rate soaring to 5.1%, the highest since September 2005. .
On the New York Mercantile Exchange, crude-oil futures gained, with the spot month up $1.31 at $105.14 a barrel. .
Gold futures also climbed, with the contract for June delivery up $1 at $906 an ounce. .
In overseas trade, stocks in Tokyo fell, with automobile shares among those weighing on the market. .
In Europe, shares wobbled in the wake of the U.S. jobs data. .
By Kate Gibson