- Dow Jones Industrial Average down 43.90 (-0.33%) to 13,197.73
- S&P 500 down 3.99 (-0.28%) to 1,412.52
- Nasdaq Composite down 2.22 (-0.07%) to 3,120.35
- Hang Seng Index up 1.83%
- China Shanghai Composite Index down 0.15%.
- FTSE 100 down 0.56%.
U.S. stocks finished slightly lower after new housing data and a measure of consumer confidence did little to influence trading activity. The 10 industry sectors in the S&P 500 were evenly split between gainers and losers, led by a 0.81% decline for energy stocks while material stocks gave up early gains to finish nearly flat.
A private sector report showed U.S. consumer confidence dipped in March but was nearly in line with forecasts, while inflation expectations rose to the highest in 10 months while another report found housing prices in 20 U.S. cities were largely unchanged from December to January.
The Conference Board index of consumer confidence released today eased to a 70.2 reading from an upwardly revised 71.6 the month before, roughly in line with economists' expectations for a 70.3 reading. Details of the report were mixed as consumer expectations fell but their assessment of their current situation rose to the highest level since September 2008. The improvement in consumers' view of their present situation suggests they still feel the economy is not losing momentum, the report said.
A similar survey of U.S. small business also found confidence rose to its highest level in a year during Q1, with more firms planning to ramp up hiring as the economy's prospects improved. Vistage International said its confidence index rose to 105.1 in the first three months of 2012 from 98.8 in the final months of 2011.
U.S. home prices fell in January from a month earlier, hitting early-2003 levels, according to Standard & Poor's Case-Shiller home-price index. The data signal the housing market remains sluggish despite soft prices and historically low interest rates. The Case-Shiller index of 10 major metropolitan areas declined 0.8% while the 20-city index fell by the same percentage.
In company news, homebuilder Lennar Corp (LEN) enjoyed a pop higher despite reporting a 45% decline in Q4 profits but also posting a big jump in new orders and saying it was seeing real signs of recovery in the housing market. LEN reported net income of $15 million, or $0.08 a share, during the three months ended Feb. 29, topping the $0.04 a share profit analysts in a Dow Jones survey had been expecting. Revenues of $724.9 million also beat expectations.
Also, shares of Buffalo Wild Wings (BWLD) were lower today after Deutsche Bank downgraded shares of the casual eatery from Buy to Hold, citing valuation. The stock is approaching the firm's $100 price target and has less upside for new investors, according to the brokerage.
In other economic news, activity among manufacturers in the central Atlantic region slowed but still remained in expansion for the fourth-straight month, the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond reported. The bank's manufacturing general-business index fell to 7 in March from 20 last month.
Crude oil settled with a 30-cent gain for the April NYMEX contract at $107.33 a barrel. April gold ended with a 70-cent decline, settling at $1,684.80 an ounce after earlier reaching $1,690.
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