Mixed economic data from three continents sent stocks stumbling between small gains and losses Monday as traders fretted that global growth is slowing.
A private survey of manufacturing executives suggested that factory activity is growing more quickly as employment and output increase. But U.S. builders slowed their activity for a second straight month in February, pushing construction spending down by the largest amount in seven months.
Just before 10:30 a.m. EDT, the Dow Jones industrial average was up seven points at 13,219. The Standard & Poor's 500 index was up four at 1,412. The Nasdaq composite index rose nine to 3,099.
The nervous tone boosted demand for ultra-safe Treasurys, sending the yield on the 10-year Treasury note down to 2.19 percent from 2.24 percent earlier Monday.
Both U.S. economic reports were released a half-hour after trading began. Stocks had opened broadly lower after worrying news from Asia and Europe.
A survey of Chinese purchasing managers by the bank HSBC slipped, after adjusting for seasonal factors. The survey reflects export activity in China. Its average reading for the first quarter was the weakest in three years.
A survey of European manufacturing executives by financial data firm Markit fell to a three-month low. It indicated that manufacturing activity there is contracting.
Unemployment in the 17 countries that use the euro has risen to 10.8 percent, according to official figures released later on Monday. That is the highest level of unemployment there since the launch of the euro in 1999, adding to fears about the depth of the recession there.
Many traders were looking ahead to the U.S. February jobs report, due out Friday. Economists expect that job creation slowed modestly after three of the strongest months for the labor market since the recession.
Oil and other energy commodities fell. European indexes were mixed: Benchmark indexes in France and Germany fell; London's FTSE 100 rose.
In corporate news:
-- Avon Products Inc., which makes hair goo, makeup and watches, leaped 19 percent after the company rejected a $10 billion buyout offer from Coty Inc., a giant German perfume company.
Avon reported a fourth-quarter loss earlier this year and is in the hunt for a new CEO. The company has struggled as it attempts to put behind it an overseas bribery investigation that began in 2008.
-- Express Scripts rose 5 percent after it completed its $29.1 billion acquisition of Medco Health, creating the country's largest pharmacy benefits manager.