Stocks waver; Retail sales rose in February

STEVE ROTHWELL AP Markets Writer Published:

NEW YORK (AP) -- Stocks were little changed in early trading on Wall Street after a report showed that retail sales rose more than forecast in February.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 24 points, or 0.2 percent, to 14,426 as of 9:52 a.m. EDT. The index rose for an eighth straight day Tuesday, its longest streak of advances in more than two years.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell three points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,549. The Nasdaq composite fell 9 points, or 0.2 percent, to 3,233.

Americans spent at the fastest pace in five months in February, boosting retail spending 1.1 percent compared with January, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. Economists had forecast a rise of just 0.2 percent, according to data provider FactSet.

The solid increase in retail sales is encouraging because it shows that Americans kept spending despite a payroll tax increase that has lowered take-home pay this year for most workers. Consumer spending drives about 70 percent of the U.S. economy.

If the Dow closes higher, it would match the longest streak of advances since May 1996, according to Ryan Detrick, an analyst at Schaeffer's Investment Research. The Dow is up 10.1 percent this year and has closed at record highs over the previous six days.

Demand for stocks has been propelled this year by optimism that the housing market is recovering and that companies have started to hire. Strong company earnings and ongoing stimulus from the Federal Reserve are also helping make stocks more attractive.

The broader S&P 500 index has gained 8.7 percent and is within less than a percentage point of its record close of 1,1565.15 set in October 2007.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.04 percent from 2.02 percent.

Among stocks making big moves;

-- Spectrum Pharmaceuticals plunged $4.36, or 35 percent, to $8.03 after the pharmaceutical company said sales of its drug Fusilev could fall by more than half this year.

-- Dole dropped 60 cents to $11.12 after the company's fourth-quarter results fell short of analysts' expectations. The fruit company cited lower banana prices in North America.