NEW YORK (AP) — Hewlett-Packard helped pull the Dow Jones industrial average to a slight gain Thursday, giving the index only its fourth gain this month.
Stocks flipped between gains and losses throughout the day after a meeting of European leaders failed to deliver new steps to ease the region's debt crisis.
The Dow closed up 33.60 points at 12,529.75. Fears that Europe's troubles could turn into a worldwide financial crisis have pushed the 30-stock average down 5 percent this month, erasing most of its gains for the year.
U.S economic news gave traders little direction. Orders for long-lasting factory goods edged up in April, but a key category that tracks business investment spending fell for the second month in a row. The number of people applying for unemployment benefits dipped last week.
The potential for bad news to roil markets is so high that many investors would prefer to sit it out, said Stephen Carl, head equity trader at the Williams Capital Group.
"Uncertainty is playing a big part here," Carl said. "You don't know which way things are going to go."
Hewlett-Packard rose 3 percent after the maker of personal computers and printers said it plans to purge 27,000 employees, nearly 8 percent of the company's payroll. H-P expects the layoffs, part of a turnaround program under CEO Meg Whitman, to save $3 billion or more.
European leaders wrapped up their latest summit Thursday with no new concrete steps to fix the continent's financial crisis, even as worries rise about a messy Greek exit from the euro currency union.
Markets in Europe recovered from a huge sell-off the day before. Germany's DAX increased 0.5 percent and the CAC-40 in France 1 percent.