Poor consumer confidence hits US stocks

CAROLINE VALETKEVITCH
Last updated 11:00 26/02/2014

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US stocks were nearly flat on Tuesday as a rise in retail shares following strong results from companies including Home Depot was offset by weaker-than-expected consumer confidence data.

The S&P 500, which hit an intraday record high on Monday, remained points from its all-time closing high of 1,848.38 but still in negative territory for the year.

Home Depot shares rose 2.8 per cent to US$80.09 ($96.12), giving the S&P 500 its biggest boost. The Dow component's earnings beat expectations, though sales fell more than expected in the fourth quarter.

Macy's jumped 6.3 per cent to US$56.41 after the retailer reported a drop in January sales, but said fourth-quarter earnings rose from the prior year.

"There are a couple of credible pieces of information that didn't get caught in the snow drifts," said Fred Dickson, chief market strategist, D.A. Davidson  in Lake Oswego, Oregon.

"Consumers are spending."

The S&P retail index rose 1.7 per cent.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 1.92 points or 0.01 per cent, to 16,205.22, the S&P 500 lost 0.33 points or 0.02 per cent, to 1,847.28 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 4.08 points or 0.1 per cent, to 4,288.888.

In the latest economic data, the S&P/Case-Shiller index of home prices rose slightly more than expected in December, but February consumer confidence fell more than expected.

The confidence report was the latest in a string of economic data that came in below forecasts. While many analysts pin the weakness to harsh winter weather rather than weakening fundamentals, trading are looking for evidence the market's levels are justified.

Many traders are looking ahead to Thursday, when Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen will speak to the Senate Banking Committee in 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 the Fed will not change its schedule for trimming stimulus.

Among other corporate results, Tenet Healthcare late on Monday swung to a net loss in its fourth quarter, though adjusted earnings were better than expected. Shares fell 8.3 per cent to US$44.34.

Perry Ellis International Inc shares dropped 17.1 per cent to US$13 and hit their lowest level since late 2011, a day after forecasting a fall in quarterly revenue.

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- Reuters

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