Dow up for a fourth day, turns positive for 2011

It's a quiet end to a wild month for financial markets.

Major stock indexes wavered between slight gains and losses. The Dow Jones industrial average was up 3 points after turning positive for the year earlier Wednesday. Gold and oil prices were relatively flat. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note was up slightly.

A surge in factory orders indicated to investors that the manufacturing industry is still healthy.

Factory orders rose 2.4 percent in July, the largest increase since March. Demand for cars jumped the most in eight years and orders for commercial airplanes soared. The report follows one that showed orders had fallen 0.8 percent in June. That caused worries that manufacturing, one of the best-performing areas of the U.S. economy since the recession ended two years ago, might be starting to sputter.

The Dow rose 3 points, or less than 0.04 percent, to 11,562. It was its fourth straight day of gains. Aluminum maker Alcoa Inc. rose 3.1 percent, the most of the 30 companies that make up the Dow average.

Joy Global rose 1.1 percent after the mining equipment maker said its earnings rose 46 percent because of strong global demand for commodities like copper and coal.

That helped to push up other stocks in the mining and commodities industry. Equipment giant Caterpillar Inc. rose 0.5 percent.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 2, or 0.1 percent, to 1,214. Telecommunications stocks were the worst performers, falling 2.2 percent.

AT&T Inc. plunged 4.7 percent after the Justice Department filed a lawsuit to stop the company's $39 billion merger with rival T-Mobile USA. Sprint Nextel Corp., which opposed the deal, rose 6.1 percent. It had the biggest gain in the S&P 500.

The Nasdaq composite index fell 10, or 0.4 percent, to 2,565.

The stock market is closing out an extraordinarily volatile month. The Dow was as high of 12,132 this month and as low of 10,719 in the span of 23 trading days.

The volatility that began in late July seeped into August and the debate in Washington, D.C., over extending the country's borrowing limit to avoid a debt default. The declines gained speed the week ended Aug. 5, when all three major indexes entered a correction, or a decline of 10 percent or more from their recent peak. Investors feared that Italy or Spain — Europe's third and fourth largest economy's — would be unable to repay their debts. Some economists began to worry that the U.S. would slip into another recession.

Then came the bad news. Standard & Poor's lowered the nation's credit rating, and stocks plunged. The S&P 500 hit a low for 2011 on Aug. 8 and the Dow had four consecutive days of 400-point swings, the first time that's happened in its 115-year history.

Stocks had their first positive week in a month the week ended Aug. 26 after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said the U.S. remains on pace for long-term economic growth. The Dow has now risen for seven of the last eight days.

Rex Macey, chief investment officer of Wilmington Trust, said he expected more sudden turns in the stock market until investors can determine if the U.S. economy is headed for another recession or a recovery.

"When you're on the edge of growth versus recession, that's a big difference," he said. "Being near the precipice means that markets are going to be more volatile."