Stocks edge up in another day of choppy trading

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NEW YORK (AP) ? General Electric and other industrial companies are pushing stocks higher Tuesday in another day of choppy trading.

The Dow Jones industrial average was up 25 points, or 0.2 percent, to 11,086 at 2:55 p.m. The Dow dropped as many as 73 points in the morning. General Electric Co. rose the most of the 30 Dow stocks, gaining 2.3 percent to $15.36.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was up 8, or 0.7 percent, to 1,170.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. rose 1 percent to $32.77. Analysts at Stifel Nicolaus put a “buy” rating on the stock, saying it was undervalued. Other large banks also rose. Wells Fargo & Co. gained 2 percent to $24.57.

The Nasdaq rose 31 points, or 1.2 percent, to 2,526. Apple rose 1.6 percent. Morgan Stanley analysts said the tech giant was more likely than ever to reward investors with a dividend or through buying back its stock.

Best Buy Co. plunged 7 percent to $23.20, the biggest loss of any S&P 500 stock, after the electronic retailer reported a fall in quarterly profit. Sales in stores open a year or longer dropped 2.8 percent.

Trading has been uneven so far in September as investors struggle with uncertainty over the European debt crisis and questions over which way the U.S. economy is going, said Ryan Detrick, senior technical strategist at Schaeffer’s Investment Research. That fear of the unknown has made markets especially volatile, he said. Traders seem to be hanging on every piece of news or rumor out of Europe. The market has closed higher only two days this month.

“It’s a difficult environment for a long-term investor,” Detrick said. “Any news can take you significantly higher or lower. There’s just so much volatility.”

Detrick says the uncertainty has started to drive retail investors out of stocks. Americans pulled $36 billion out of U.S. stock funds in August, according to preliminary data from the Investment Company Institute. That’s second only to the $47 billion withdrawn from U.S. stock funds at the height of the financial crisis in October 2008.

A weak reading of business sentiment kept the market’s gains in check. An index of small business conditions from the National Federation of Independent Business dropped to a 13-month low in August. The NFIB said companies surveyed had weaker expectations for sales and a bleaker view of the overall economy.

European markets rose Tuesday after Italy’s finance minister confirmed that officials had met with China’s sovereign wealth fund about buying Italian bonds. Italy’s FT-SE MIB index rose 2.2 percent. Germany’s DAX closed 1.9 percent higher.

A report that China may buy Italian government bonds helped U.S. stock indexes eke out slight gains Monday. All of the gains came in a sudden burst of buying in the last 15 minutes of trading.

The Dow and S&P 500 have lost 4 percent this month amid worries that Europe’s debt crisis could knock the U.S. into another recession. The U.S. economy is already slowing, and unemployment remains high at 9.1 percent.