* Weak holiday numbers roil retail stocks
* Airline stocks fall after No. 1 U.S. carrier cuts forecasts
* Powell says no preset path for interest rate hikes
* Indexes: Dow +0.03 pct, S&P +0.04 pct, Nasdaq flat (Updates to afternoon)
By Noel Randewich
Jan 10 (Reuters) - Wall Street rose in a seesaw session on Thursday, tentatively on track for its fifth straight day of gains as investors responded to mixed comments by Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, while a warning from Macy’s pummeled retail stocks.
Powell reiterated the views of other policymakers that the Fed would be patient about interest rate hikes. But major stock indexes temporarily moved into negative territory after Powell said the bank’s balance sheet would be “substantially smaller,” and after he raised concerns about the size of U.S. debt.
“That’s what spooked the market a little bit. It’s more of a commentary on the entire economy as a whole,” said Randy Frederick, vice president of trading and derivatives for Charles Schwab in Austin.
The S&P 500 is up about 10 percent from a 20-month low it touched around Christmas, lifted by hopes for a U.S.-Chinese trade deal, which eased some worries over the impact of the dispute on global growth.
If the S&P 500 ends the day in positive territory, it would be the fifth straight session of gains, its longest winning streak since September.
Trade-related optimism somewhat faded as China offered little in the way of details on key issues such as forced technology transfers, intellectual property rights, tariff barriers and cyber attacks.
The lack of clarity, coupled with weak economic data in China and France, rekindled worries about global growth.
In the United States, reports from Macy’s and American Airlines added to fears that growth of corporate profits would shrink, concerns that were also exacerbated by Apple’s sales warning last week.
Macy’s Inc plunged 18 percent after the department store operator cut its same-store sales forecast for the full-year because of weak demand during mid-December.
S&P 500 companies on average are seen posting 14.5 percent growth in earnings per share as they report December-quarter results over the next few weeks, according to IBES data from Refinitiv. However, expectations for growth in 2019 stand at 6.4 percent, down from an expectation of 7.3 percent on Jan 1.
“It could be a good quarter, but maybe with more cautious outlooks until we get something that comes out of the trade negotiations,” said Kurt Brunner, a portfolio manager at Swarthmore Group in Philadelphia. “There is a lot of uncertainty there.”
At 2:53 p.m. EST, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 0.06 percent at 23,893.58 points, while the S&P 500 had gained 0.04 percent to 2,585.91.
The Nasdaq Composite was flat at 6,957.15.
Trade-sensitive industrial stocks rose 1.17 percent, lifted by Boeing Co, which gained 1.98 percent after the U.S. Air Force accepted its long-delayed KC-46 air tanker.
American Airlines Group Inc fell 4.09 percent after the No. 1 U.S. carrier cut its fourth-quarter profit and unit revenue forecasts. That weighed on other airline shares as well.
Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.26-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, a 1.04-to-1 ratio favored advancers.
The S&P 500 posted no new 52-week highs and one new low; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 18 new highs and 10 new lows. (Additional reporting by Sruthi Shankar and Medha Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)