US STOCKS-Wall St flat in choppy trading after two-day surge

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* Exxon Mobil gains on strong results

* UPS jumps on upbeat forecast

* AT&T down on halving dividend

* Indexes edge up: Dow 0.11%, S&P 0.06%, Nasdaq 0.03% (Recasts, updates to early-afternoon prices, adds context)

By David French and Bansari Mayur Kamdar

Feb 1 (Reuters) – Wall Street indexes seesawed between positive and negative territory on Tuesday as investors digested data releases and awaited big tech earnings.

Recent sessions have been choppy, as the prospect of an aggressive rate-hike campaign by the US Federal Reserve looms large and investors seek to position themselves influencing accordingly – a task not made easy by lingering pandemics on the economy and geopolitical tension in Europe.

The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq logged their largest two-day gains since April 2020 on the final trading day of January, which still turned out to be their worst monthly performance since March 2020.

Philadelphia Fed President Patrick Harker said on Tuesday it may be appropriate for the US central bank to raise rates four times this year, while Atlanta Fed president Raphael Bostic said the Fed needs to act “soon” to control inflation expectations.

Traders are betting on five rate hikes this year, with some Wall Street analysts expecting seven hikes.

“This will be the year when Fed will pull back support … the markets will not be on steroids anymore and may go through a phase of detox,” said Anu Gaggar, global investment strategist at Commonwealth Financial Network.

Geopolitical tensions added to market volatility, with Ukraine’s president signing a decree to boost his armed forces by 100,000 troops over three years, as European leaders lined up to back him in a standoff with Russia and the United States demanded immediate Russian de-escalation.

By 1:43 pm ET (1843 GMT), the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 38.22 points, or 0.11%, to 35,170.08, the S&P 500 gained 2.88 points, or 0.06%, to 4,518.43 and the Nasdaq Composite added 3.80 points, or 0.03 %, to 14,243.68.

Six of the 11 major S&P sectors advanced, with energy stocks hitting a record high before easing slightly. The index is, by far, the best-performing sector in 2022, gaining 22.4% as US crude hovers near a seven-year high.

Those strong energy prices helped Exxon Mobil Corp to post its biggest quarterly profit in seven years on Tuesday. It jumped 5.4%, leading gainers on the energy index.

As of Tuesday, 184 S&P 500 companies posted quarterly results, of which 78.8% reported earnings above analyst expectations, according to Refinitiv.

“It is a day of sifting through the mess of the big January narratives,” Robert Cantwell, portfolio manager at Upholdings, said. “We’ve a number of earnings calls still in front of us … including Google, Facebook and Amazon.”

Google parent Alphabet Inc advanced 1.4% ahead of its quarterly results, with Amazon Inc and Meta Platforms Inc expected to report later this week.

Of those which reported before the bell, United Parcel Service Inc jumped 14% after projecting 2022 revenue above market expectations, and recruiter ManpowerGroup Inc gained 3.5%.

AT&T Inc dropped 4.4% after saying it will spin off WarnerMedia in a $43 billion transaction to merge its media properties with Discovery Inc and also cut its dividend by nearly half.

On the data front, job openings grew to 10.925 million in December, compared with analysts’ estimates of 10.3 million, Labor Department data showed, ahead of the monthly payrolls report on Friday.

ISM’s purchasing managers’ index (PMI) measuring manufacturing activity fell to a 14-month low in January amid an outbreak of COVID-19 infections but was still slightly above consensus. (Reporting by Bansari Mayur Kamdar and Medha Singh in Bengaluru and David French in New York; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Lisa Shumaker)

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