NEW YORK (AP) -- Stocks ended Monday's session mostly unchanged as investors waited for first-quarter company earnings to start rolling in. Overseas markets gained as investors hoped for more stimulus in China, the world's second-largest economy.
The Dow Jones industrial average lost 20.55 points, or 0.1 percent, to 17,556.41. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 5.61 points, or 0.3 percent, to 2,041.99 and the Nasdaq composite fell 17.29 points, or 0.4 percent, to 4,833.40.
First-quarter earnings reports got underway with results from aluminum mining giant Alcoa after the closing bell Monday. The company reported adjusted earnings of 7 cents a share, beating the loss of two cents per share that analysts had anticipated.
Later this week the nation's largest banks will start reporting their results, including JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Wells Fargo. Expectations are low for this earnings season. Analysts surveyed by FactSet expect a decline of 9.1 percent in earnings from a year earlier.
The decline in earnings is largely tied to the steep drop in the price of oil from a year ago, which has hammered the share prices of energy companies as well as their profits. Energy companies expected to report a loss this quarter. If energy was excluded from the S&P 500, earnings in the index would only be down 4.2 percent from a year ago.
Some investors have said they are looking to set aside this quarter's earnings results. Since many believe the price of oil has found a bottom, there is hope that earnings later this year will make up for the first quarter's expected dismal performance.
"There are signs we could see positive U.S. earnings surprises later this year, driven by a stabilization in oil prices and a halt in the U.S. dollar's rise," Richard Turnill, global chief investment strategist for BlackRock, wrote in a note to investors.
Overseas, investors were encouraged by economic data out of China, which showed inflation remains tame within the world's second-largest economy. Low inflation could provide a reason for Chinese officials to offer more monetary stimulus to keep the country's economy from slowing further. Asian and European markets closed mostly higher.
Benchmark U.S. crude oil rose 64 cents to close at $40.36 a barrel. Brent crude, the international benchmark, rose 89 cents to $42.83 a barrel in London.
In other individual companies, Hertz Global Holdings fell $1.11, or 11 percent, to $8.59 after the rental car company cut its full-year earnings forecast. The company said the car rental industry is suffering from too much capacity and competition.
Yahoo rose 41 cents, or 1 percent, to $36.48 after news reports said the U.K.'s Daily Mail was interested in purchasing the company. The Daily Mail confirmed the reports on Monday.
U.S. government bond prices were mostly unchanged. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note remained steady at 1.72 percent. The dollar edged lower 107.95 yen from 108.10 yen. The euro was slightly higher at $1.1409.
In other energy commodities, heating oil rose 1 cent to $1.215 a gallon, wholesale gasoline rose 4 cents to $1.508 a gallon and natural gas fell 8 cents to $1.912 per thousand cubic feet.
Precious and industrial metals prices closed higher. Gold climbed $14.20 to $1,258 an ounce, silver jumped 59 cents to $15.98 an ounce and copper edged up less than a penny to $2.09 a pound.