* Target's weak sales, forecast cut weigh on retailers
* UnitedHealth down for third day, top drag on Dow
* Dow down 0.2 pct, S&P down 0.01 pct, Nasdaq up 0.01 pct (Updates to late afternoon)
By Caroline Valetkevitch
Jan 18 (Reuters) - The S&P 500 was flat in afternoon trading on Wednesday as a drop in oil prices weighed on the energy sector while financials rose, mostly retracing some of the previous session's losses.
UnitedHealth, which has risen more than 10 percent since the election, was off 2.1 percent at $157.32 after reporting results on Tuesday. The stock was the biggest drag on the Dow and among the biggest drags on the S&P 500.
The S&P energy index was down 0.7 percent following a drop in oil, while the S&P financials index gained 0.4 percent, a day after registering its worst session since June.
Bank of America, which reported results on Friday, was up 2 percent and gave the biggest boost to the S&P 500. Goldman Sachs, however, lost 1.7 percent following its quarterly results.
A frenetic post-election rally in U.S. equities has hit a speed bump in recent weeks as investors wait for President-elect Donald Trump to work on his campaign promises.
Investors hope to get more insight following his inauguration on Friday.
"There's still trepidation" about what the new administration may bring, said Paul Nolte, portfolio manager at Kingsview Asset Management in Chicago.
"There is that random risk that has not existed before," he said. "The market is still waiting for economic policies, direction etc."
At 2:47 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 43.05 points, or 0.22 percent, to 19,783.72, the S&P 500 lost 0.16 points, or 0.01 percent, to 2,267.73 and the Nasdaq Composite added 0.67 points, or 0.01 percent, to 5,539.39.
Shares of Target also weighed on the S&P 500. The retailer's shares fell 5.9 percent in their biggest single-day drop since August after the brick-and-mortar chain reported dismal results for the holiday season and cut its quarterly earnings forecast.
Qualcomm rose 1.6 percent and helped the Nasdaq after Morgan Stanley said in a note that the U.S. government may be reluctant to pursue an antitrust case against the company.
Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.11-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.06-to-1 ratio favored decliners.
The S&P 500 posted 13 new 52-week highs and 4 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 66 new highs and 25 new lows. (Additional reporting by Yashaswini Swamynathan in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D'Silva and Andrew Hay)