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Stocks flat after housing data, retailer earnings

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks moved between small gains and losses Wednesday as investors assessed earnings reports from retailers and other companies. Home builders gained after sales of new homes jumped in January at the fastest pace in more than five years.

KEEPING SCORE: The S&P 500 fell one point, or 0.1 percent, to 1,843 as of 3:36 p.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones industrial average rose six points, or less than 0.1 percent to 16,188. The Nasdaq composite was flat at 4,286.

HOME HELP: Several home builder stocks rose sharply after the government reported that U.S. sales of new homes rebounded last month. That’s a hopeful signs after a slowdown in the housing market last year caused by higher interest rates. PulteGroup rose 60 cents, or 2.9 percent, to $21.28 and Lennar rose $1.40, or 3.3 percent, to $43.66.

HOME SPENDING: Lowe’s climbed $2.32, or 4.8 percent, to $50.42. The company said its net income rose 6 percent in the most recent quarter as the home-improvement retailer continued to benefit from a recovery in the housing market. The company also announced a new $5 billion stock repurchase program.

BOOKING A PROFIT: Barnes & Noble rose 47 cents, or 2.7 percent, to $18.19 after reporting a third-quarter profit. Cost cuts at the company’s Nook e-reader unit and elsewhere helped offset declining revenue. Barnes & Noble has been trying to turn itself around as competition from discount stores and online retailers gets tougher and consumers shift to buying digital books.

OTHER RETAILERS: Abercrombie & Fitch jumped $4.10, or 11.4 percent, to $40.07 after posting earnings that exceeded the expectations of Wall Street analysts. The retailer also initiated a $150 million accelerated share buyback program. Target also rose after reporting its earnings. The company’s stock surged $3.72, or 6.6 percent, to $60.23, after saying that sales its sales have been recovering since January.

CLOSE, BUT NO RECORD YET: The S&P 500 index has climbed above its record closing high of 1,848.38 during the last two days, only to fall below that level before the market closed. The level is starting to turn into a psychological hurdle for traders and investors. The index needs to close decisively above 1,850 before it can climb further, said JJ Kinahan, a strategist at TD Ameritrade.

“That’s the level that everyone is just watching to see if we can stay above it and close above it.”

FED TALK: Investor will get to hear more from Janet Yellen, the new Federal Reserve Chair, on Thursday, when she testifies in front of the Senate’s Banking Committee. Stocks jumped Feb. 11 when Yellen spoke to Congress, her first public comments since taking over for Ben Bernanke at the Fed. Her appearance in the Senate was delayed because of a winter storm.

DON’T LET THE SUN GO DOWN: First Solar slumped Wednesday after reporting earnings that fell short of financial analysts’ expectations. The company’s stock fell $5.48, or 9.4 percent, to $52.54.

BONDS AND COMMODITIES: The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.67 percent from 2.70 percent. The price of oil rose 76 cents, or 0.7 percent, to $102.59 a barrel. Gold fell $14.70, or 1.1 percent to $1,328 an ounce.

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