Wall St dips on day after S&P 500 hits record high

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Feb 20, 2014 in New York City. United States (US) stocks edged lower on Tuesday, easing back from record territory a day earlier as weak economic data offset gains in Home Depot and other re
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Feb 20, 2014 in New York City. United States (US) stocks edged lower on Tuesday, easing back from record territory a day earlier as weak economic data offset gains in Home Depot and other retail shares. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP 

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - United States (US) stocks edged lower on Tuesday, easing back from record territory a day earlier as weak economic data offset gains in Home Depot and other retail shares.

Seven out of the 10 S&P 500 sector indexes ended lower, led by industrials while consumer discretionaries led on the upside.

Gains in US home prices slowed in December, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller index, while the consumer confidence index fell more than expected in February.

Selling picked up slightly late in the session as traders unwound positions after the S&P 500 failed to break above Monday's intraday record high of 1,858.71, analysts said. The index remained in negative territory, down 0.2 per cent, for the year.

"We tried to break out again and retest the highs, and since we failed, people are lightening up their positions they took earlier," said Mr Michael O'Rourke, chief market strategist at JonesTrading in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Home Depot shares jumped 4 per cent to US$80.98, giving the biggest boost to both the Dow and the S&P 500. Home Depot's earnings beat expectations, though sales fell more than expected in the fourth quarter.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 27.48 points or 0.17 per cent, to end at 16,179.66. The S&P 500 slipped 2.49 points or 0.13 per cent, to finish at 1,845.12. The Nasdaq Composite dropped 5.38 points or 0.13 per cent, to close at 4,287.587.

Shares of Macy's Inc gained 6 per cent to US$56.25 after the department store operator reported a drop in January sales, but said fourth-quarter earnings rose from the previous year.

While many analysts have pinned the weakness to harsh winter weather rather than weakening fundamentals, the retail earnings suggest that spending has not dried up.

"There are a couple of credible pieces of information that didn't get caught in the snow drifts," said Mr Fred Dickson, chief market strategist at DA Davidson & Co in Lake Oswego, Oregon. "Consumers are spending."

The S&P retail index rose 1.9 per cent, while the consumer discretionary index gained 0.5 per cent.

Investors are anxious to hear from Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen, who will speak on Thursday to the Senate Banking Committee in her semi-annual testimony about monetary policy. Her comments will be scoured for insight into how bad weather has affected economic activity, as well as for confirmation that the Fed will not change its schedule for trimming stimulus.

Among other corporate results, Tenet Healthcare Corp late on Monday swung to a net loss in its fourth quarter. Tenet's adjusted earnings, however, were better than expected. Its stock slid 9.1 per cent to close at US$43.93.

Perry Ellis International Inc shares dropped 17.5 per cent to US$12.93 and hit their lowest level since late 2011, a day after the clothing company forecast a decline in quarterly revenue.

About 6.7 billion shares changed hands on US exchanges, below the 7 billion average so far this month, according to data from BATS Global Markets.

Decliners outnumbered advancers on the New York Stock Exchange by a ratio of 8 to 7. On the Nasdaq, nearly eight stocks fell for every five that rose.

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