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While you were sleeping: Walt Disney, Whirlpool climb

Wall Street was mixed as gains in shares of Walt Disney on better-than-expected earnings offset declines in shares of Merck on disappointing results, while oil resumed its downward move amid record US inventories.

In afternoon trading in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average added 0.15 percent, while the Nasdaq Composite Index inched 0.04 percent higher. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index edged 0.03 percent lower.

The Dow moved higher as gains in shares of Walt Disney and those of Visa, up 7.8 percent and 2.1 percent respectively, outweighed declines in shares of Merck and those of Caterpillar, down 3.3 percent and 2.1 percent respectively.

In other earnings news, shares of Whirlpool climbed, last up 6.7 percent, on better-than-expected results.

About 78 percent of S&P 500 companies that have posted results this season have beaten analyst estimates, while 54 percent have topped sales projections, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

So far this year, Wall Street has remained near record highs even as the three benchmark stock indexes have all declined since the start of 2015.

"What these ups and downs point to is the bigger story of the return of volatility," Dan Farley, regional investment director for The Private Client Reserve at US Bank Wealth Management in Minneapolis, told Bloomberg Business. "We had a pretty sanguine two years and you forget that stocks can move around quite a bit."

The latest US economic data were solid, pushing US Treasuries lower. The ADP Research Institute report showed companies added 213,000 workers in January. Friday's Labor Department report is expected to show non-farm payrolls climbed 231,000 last month, while the unemployment rate held at 5.6 percent. While the ADP data fell short of expectations for 223,000, it was still a firm number.

Separately, the Institute for Supply Management's non-manufacturing index grew more than expected, rising to 56.7 in January, up from 56.5 in December.

"A good number here cemented the selling weakness we've already seen," Aaron Kohli, an interest-rate strategist at BNP Paribas in New York, one of 22 primary dealers that trade with the Federal Reserve, told Bloomberg. "ADP is setting up the market for what's going to happen in NFP. At some point you can't keep adding 200,000 jobs and not expect some wage pressure."

Shares of Staples dropped, down 10.4 percent and wiping out Tuesday's gains, after it agreed to buy Office Depot for about US$6.3 billion. Shares of Office Depot traded 1.3 percent higher.

"I think there's a fair chance for this deal to be approved." said Seth Bloom, a veteran of the Justice Department's antitrust division now in private practice, told Reuters.

Meanwhile, US crude shed more than 5 percent while Brent dropped 3 percent after an Energy Information Administration report showed US crude stocks soared by 6.3 million barrels last week to 413.06 million, their highest since records began in 1982.

In Europe, the Stoxx 600 Index finished the day with a gain of 0.5 percent from the previous close amid optimism about a new debt agreement for Greece. Germany's DAX Index rose 0.2 percent, while France's CAC 40 Index advanced 0.4 percent. The UK's FTSE 100 Index fell 0.2 percent.