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NEW YORK – Mixed economic data kept the stock market hovering near break-even Tuesday. One report on home prices looked encouraging, and another on consumer confidence was worrisome.
House prices increased in all major U.S. cities in June, according to the closely watched Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home-price index. The report was the latest sign that the housing market has been gaining strength.
“I thought it was terrific,” said Phil Orlando, chief equity strategist at Federated Investors. “If you look at all of the key housing metrics over the past year – affordability, building permits, starts – all those numbers are pointing in the right direction.”
The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 21.68 points to close at 13,102.99. Hewlett-Packard led the Dow down. HP’s stock lost 31 cents to $16.90 and hit a new one-year low.
Crude oil crept above $96 a barrel as Hurricane Isaac picked up speed in the Gulf of Mexico, where roughly one-quarter of the country’s oil is produced. Much of the region’s production and refining activity has shut down. The National Hurricane Center forecast that Isaac would reach the coast of southeastern Louisiana late Tuesday.
In other trading, the Standard & Poor’s 500 index slipped 1.14 points to 1,409.30, and the Nasdaq composite index gained 3.95 points to 3,077.14.
Trading was light again, typical for August vacation season. Over the past three days, fewer than 7.7 billion shares have been traded, the lowest three-day stretch since December 2011.
The indexes dipped in morning trading after the Conference Board said its consumer confidence index fell to its lowest point since November 2011. Economists had expected a much higher reading. The index was 60.6, down from 65.4 in July.
That unexpected drop bolsters the case for the Federal Reserve to take more steps to spur economic growth, said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi in New York, in a note to clients.
For economists and investors, the big event this week is Chairman Ben Bernanke’s speech at an annual conference in Jackson Hole, Wyo. Traders will sift through his speech Friday for evidence the Fed is readying more support.
Worries over Europe resurfaced following news that one of Spain’s largest regions, Catalonia, said it will ask the central government for $6.3 billion in rescue aid. Catalonia would be the third Spanish region to ask for help.
Among other U.S. stocks making big moves:
• The world’s top ketchup maker, H.J. Heinz, gained 2 percent. The company’s CEO said strong sales in Brazil, Indonesia and other developing countries should help quarterly earnings beat Wall Street’s expectations. The Pittsburgh company reports results today. Its stock rose 95 cents to $57.41.
• Sanderson Farms soared 9 percent after the poultry company swung to a quarterly profit.