By Sinead Carew
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wall Street lagged a rise in global markets on Wednesday, with the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq closing slightly lower even as energy shares gained along with a surge in oil prices.
Upbeat U.S. housing data and Chinese factory data were not enough to drive up sentiment and a second day of testimony by U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen provided few new clues on the timing of an interest rate hike.
MSCI's 46-country world index <.MIWD00000PUS> was up 0.19 percent at 433.63 points at the end of the U.S. trading session, stopping a fraction of a point short of its September peak.
On Wall Street, a sharp drop in shares of Apple Inc (AAPL.O) took a toll on the S&P 500 (.SPX) and Nasdaq, but the Dow (.DJI) marked another record closing high, boosted by McDonald's Corp (MCD.N). [.N] (ECONG7)
In China, the closely watched flash HSBC/Markit Purchasing Managers' Index showed February factory activity hit a four-month high but export orders shrank at their fastest rate in 20 months.
While China contributed positive momentum, investors are waiting for catalysts such as an upcoming U.S. jobs report and more clarity from the Fed, said Paul Christopher, head of international strategy at Wells Fargo Investment Institute.
"Now you need another impulse to move higher," he said.
Weakening global growth has kept investors on edge about the Fed's plans, with some worrying a premature rate-hike cycle may slow U.S. economic momentum and hurt Europe and China.
Yellen's testimony on Tuesday suggested the Fed would be flexible, which many strategists took as a sign that its first rate hike would not come until September. She repeated her remarks on Wednesday to a U.S. House of Representatives committee and fended off a stream of aggressive questions by Republican lawmakers.
"We may have a little fatigue over Yellen's comments over two days. I'm not sure we got that much new insight," said Hank Herrmann, chief executive officer of Waddell & Reed Financial Inc in Overland Park, Kansas, which has $125 billion in assets under management.
Brazil's Bovespa index (.BVSP) closed down 0.12 percent after falling as much as 1.6 percent earlier, led by a 4.9 percent drop in Petrobras (PETR4.SA), after ratings agency Moody's downgraded the company to "junk" status.
The benchmark FTSEurofirst 300 (.FTEU3) index closed down 0.1 percent after six days of gains. It has risen 12.7 percent since the end of 2014.
U.S. 30-year Treasuries yields hit their lowest point in nearly two weeks. <.US30YT=RR>
The Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI) rose 15.38 points, or 0.08 percent, to 18,224.57, the S&P 500 (.SPX) lost 1.62 points, or 0.08 percent, to 2,113.86, and the Nasdaq Composite (.IXIC) dropped 0.99 point, or 0.02 percent, to 4,967.14.
The dollar (.DXY) was down 0.31 percent against a basket of currencies after Yellen's comments.
U.S. crude oil settled up 3.5 percent at $50.99 a barrel after Saudi Arabia's oil minister said oil demand was growing while Brent crude (LCOc1) rose 5 percent to settle at $61.63. Spot gold (XAU=) last traded up about 0.36 percent to $1,203.85 an ounce at 2130 GMT, after hitting a peak of $1,211.80 an ounce.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.MIAPJ0000PUS> ended up 0.85 percent, while Japan's Nikkei (.N225) snapped a five-day climb after hitting a 15-year high the previous day.
(Additional reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak and Caroline Valetkevitch; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, David Gregorio and Leslie Adler)