NEW YORK — A decline this week in the U.S. stock market paused as the White House prepared to nominate Janet Yellen for the top position at the Federal Reserve.
Investors expect Yellen, who currently serves as the Fed's vice chair, to continue the aggressive economic stimulus policies championed by Chairman Ben Bernanke. President Barack Obama is scheduled to announce the appointment at the White House with Yellen and Bernanke at his side Wednesday.
Markets slumped beginning in late September as lawmakers clashed over raising the nation's debt limit and as a partial government shutdown spilled over into October. The Standard & Poor's 500 index has fallen 4 percent since hitting a record high Sept. 18.
Yellen's appointment "does add certainty, in the absence of certainty for stocks," said Jim Russell, a regional investment director at U.S. Bank. "It perhaps keeps a little bit of a safety net under equities for the near, or intermittent, term."
Stocks moved between small gains and losses throughout the morning.
The S&P 500 index fell four points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,651 as of 11 a.m. Eastern Time. The index lost 2 percent in the first two days of trading this week amid growing concern that politicians will fail to reach a deal before the Treasury runs out of money to pay its bills on Oct. 17.
So-called consumer discretionary products were the biggest decliners in the S&P 500.
The sector was dragged lower by a slump in Yum Brands, which owns KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut. The stock slumped $5.79, or 8.1 percent, to $65.53 after its earnings fell short of Wall Street expectations. Sales in China have grown weaker and the company cut its full-year earnings forecast after the closing bell Wednesday.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 15 points, or 0.1 percent, to 14,761.32. The Nasdaq fell 27 points, or 0.7 percent, to 3,677.40
Alcoa was another company that reported earnings late Wednesday. The aluminum maker rose 31 cents, or 3.9 percent, to $8.25 after it posted a slim third-quarter profit late Wednesday, reversing a year-ago loss.
In government bond trading, the yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.65 percent from 2.63 percent.
In commodities, trading the price of oil dropped $1.26, or 1.2 percent, to $102.23 a barrel. Gold slumped $29.30, or 2.2 percent, to $1,296.20 an ounce.
Among other stocks making big moves, Jos. A. Bank Clothiers rose $3, or 7.2 percent, to $44.72 after saying it wants to buy rival retailer Men's Wearhouse for $2.3 billion. Men's Wearhouse soared $8.54, or 24 percent, to $43.83.