MATERIAL WORLD: Alcoa's results helped push other mining and materials stocks higher. U.S. Steel rose 2 percent; industrial parts company W.W. Grainger climbed 1.5 percent; auto parts company Delphi increased 1.5 percent.
EARNINGS WORRIES: Investors are concerned that earnings for the first three months of the year will be slowed by the severe winter weather that plagued most of the country. Earnings are expected to fall 1.6 percent from a year earlier, according to financial data provider FactSet. If that forecast proves correct, it would be the first time corporate profits have fallen since the third quarter of 2012.
THE QUOTE: "We're going to see lousy results but I think we'll still see optimistic forecasts from companies," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer with BMO Private Bank in Chicago. "Companies lost a lot of business in the first couple months of the year, but most of that business I suspect will come back."
DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE? Intuitive Surgical, the maker of robotic surgical equipment, slumped $33.40, or 7 percent, to $456.44. It warned that first-quarter sales would be drastically lower than previously expected. Intuitive Surgical, like many other biotechnology stocks, has endured some steep drops recently. It traded as high as $541.23 last Thursday.
HOTEL VACANCY: La Quinta Holdings, the parent company of the hotel chain La Quinta Inns, rose 31 cents, or 2 percent, to $17.33 on its first day of trading. La Quinta is owned by the private equity firm Blackstone Group and was taken public this week in a $650 million IPO.
ECONOMY WATCH: The Federal Reserve will release minutes from its March policy meeting later Wednesday. Also, the government reported that U.S. wholesale businesses increased their stockpiles for an eighth consecutive month in February. Their sales rose at the fastest pace since November.
BONDS AND COMMODITIES: Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note edged up to 2.70 percent from 2.68 percent late Tuesday. The price of crude oil was flat at $102 a barrel. Gold fell $3 to $1,306 an ounce.