However, the opening gains were tampered by shipment giant United Parcel Service Inc.'s lowering its outlook, taking analysts by surprise.
After rising to an early high of 12,621, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 7 points at 1,2583.
Among Dow components, Citigroup Inc. gained 1% to $23.92, following a report in the Wall Street Journal that Citi plans to sell $12 billion in debt for nearly 90 cents on the dollar. .
The S&P 500 dropped 2.5 points to 1,363, while the Nasdaq Composite lost 5 points to 2,344.
Meanwhile, Atlanta-based UPS cited a weakening U.S. economy for a decline in business, with higher fuel prices also denting its expected results. .
Circuit City Stores Inc. also noted challenging conditions, but surprisingly reported a fourth-quarter profit.
Dow member Boeing Co. said it's delaying delivery of its 787 Dreamliner, with the plane's maiden voyage now expected late this year. But the Chicago aerospace manufacturer said the delay doesn't change its 2008 guidance.
Gold futures gained, with the contract for June delivery up $3.90 to $917.90 an ounce on the New York Mercantile Exchange. .
A weekly survey by the Mortgage Bankers Association found mortgage applications rose a seasonally adjusted 5.4% last week compared with the final week of March, with the four-week moving average for all loans tracked by the MBA up 1.8%. .
Later, the Commerce Department reports on inventories at U.S. wholesalers in February.
In overseas trade, European shares reversed course after earlier losses as telecom and oil companies gained. .
Asian markets slipped into the red as worries about the U.S. economy and global credit markets took hold. .
On Tuesday, U.S. stock indexes fell amid disheartening quarterly earnings.
By Kate Gibson