US stocks turn mildly negative

Shares on Wall Street have given up their modest gains from earlier, as investors hesitate from pushing the S&P 500 through to new highs against a backdrop of weak economic data.

At one point earlier today, with the S&P 500 advancing above 1850, it seemed that we would see the stock market benchmark set a new closing record. With twenty minutes to the close, that seems far less likely, though, with investor confidence faltering in late trading, sending the major US stock indices into the red. At the time of writing, the Dow Jones was off by 0.27% at 16,163 and the S&P 500 was down 0.18% at 1844.3.

After several days where investors have turned a blind eye to the weakness in economic reports, finally soft data has begun to drag on risk appetite. While far from disastrous, February’s drop in consumer confidence is just the latest indicator to suggest slowing in the US economy.

The retail sector has remained buoyant today though, lifted by strong results from Home Depot and Macy’s. Department store chain Macy’s maintained its forecast for the full year despite slow sales so far this year; CEO Terry Lundgren believes sales will bounce back when better weather arrives. The company managed to maintain its profit margins over the holiday shopping period, at a time when competitors were offering deep discounts.

We heard news today of rising US home prices and tomorrow we will be able to see what effect higher prices have had on sales, with new home sales data released for January.

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