Wall St flat; retailers gain for a second day

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Feb 20, 2014. United States stocks were nearly flat on Feb 26, with the S&P 500 holding below resistance levels even as retailers gained for a second day. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Feb 20, 2014. United States stocks were nearly flat on Feb 26, with the S&P 500 holding below resistance levels even as retailers gained for a second day. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - United States (US) stocks were nearly flat on Wednesday, with the S&P 500 holding below resistance levels even as retailers gained for a second day.

Shares of retailers Target Corp and Lowe's Cos Inc rose, giving the S&P 500 its biggest boosts.

The S&P 500 hit a record intraday high of 1,858.71 on Monday but has been unable to break above it since then.

"We are just biding time to see which way this market is going to go, if it's going to break through or if we are going to have a pullback here," said Mr Paul Mendelsohn, chief investment strategist at Windham Financial Services in Charlotte, Vermont.

In another positive sign, new home sales surged to a 5-1/2-year high in January, far outpacing expectations. While much recent data have been below forecasts, analysts have attributed that to bad weather rather than worsening fundamentals. The housing data could support that interpretation.

But investors also were watching for changes in Ukraine after Russian President Vladimir Putin put 150,000 combat troops on high alert for war games near Ukraine.

"It's bigger automatically because Russia is involved," Mr Mendelsohn said.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 10.77 points or 0.07 per cent, to 16,168.89, the S&P 500 lost 2.5 points or 0.14 per cent, to 1,842.62 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 3.649 points or 0.09 per cent, to 4,283.938.

Target jumped 7.1 per cent to US$60.35 after reporting its results, even as the retailer said the sales and earnings had been impacted by a massive data breach and that costs relating to the event could hurt future profits.

Lowe's stock rose 4.9 per cent to US$50.48 after the home improvement retailer reported earnings and sales growth and an additional stock buyback programme of US$5 billion (S$6.3 billion). The results came a day after peer Home Depot also posted strong earnings.

Market moves may be slight until Thursday, when Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen addresses the Senate Banking Committee in semi-annual testimony about monetary policy. Her comments will be scoured for insight into how much an unexpectedly cold winter has affected economic activity, and for confirmation the Fed will maintain its stimulus-trimming schedule.

On the downside, both Chesapeake Energy Corp and First Solar Inc fell after posting declines in earnings. First Solar shares dropped 9.8 per cent to US$52.30 a day after the solar panel maker reported that its fourth-quarter net income fell 58 per cent. Chesapeake fell 5.2 per cent to US$25.54 after it swung to a net loss on charges related to employee termination costs.