NEW YORK - Stocks ended mixed Tuesday as investors grappled with concerns about consumer spending in some parts of the economy while technology stocks showed broad gains.
Stocks pared losses from early in the session to trade largely flat when investors tried to balance concerns about weakness in the economy with hopes that lackluster indications about the health of the consumer and the housing market could bolster the case for lower interest rates. Meanwhile, falling energy prices appeared to lend some support to stocks.
Traders weighed a series of negative reports from companies whose fortunes are tied to the health of the consumer. Retailers Target Corp. and Lowe's Cos. trimmed their expectations for the year because of slowing sales, while homebuilder Lennar Corp. posted a fiscal third-quarter loss and sharply lower revenues.
The latest economic reports offered fresh evidence that consumer sentiment is taking a hit amid the worst housing slump in more than a decade.
In the reports, the Conference Board said its Consumer Confidence Index for September fell to its lowest level in almost two years and the National Association of Realtors reported sales of existing homes fell for a sixth straight month in August to the lowest point in five years.
"There are still some mental factors at play. The market has leaped substantially off the recent lows," said Steven Goldman, chief market strategist for Weeden & Co. "We're consolidating ahead of a seasonally strong time, and there are still lingering concerns about the economy."
According to preliminary calculations, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 19.59, or 0.14 percent, to 13,778.65.
Broader stock indicators were mixed. The Standard & Poor's 500 slipped 0.52, or 0.03 percent, to 1,517.21, while the Nasdaq composite rose 15.50, or 0.58 percent, to 2,583.45.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 2.80, or 0.35 percent, to 803.00.
Bonds prices rose, with the yield on the benchmark 10-year note falling to 4.61 percent from 4.62 percent late Monday. The dollar resumed its decline against the euro - the fourth session in which it hit record lows. Meanwhile, gold edged lower after a recent run-up.
A barrel of light, sweet crude fell $1.42 to $79.53 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It was the first time in more than a week that oil closed below $80 per barrel; last week oil neared $84 a barrel.
The markets moves followed mostly negative economic news. Not all findings were bad, however. The Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, which serves the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and most of West Virginia, said economic growth picked up in September. Its manufacturing index for the month came in at 14, double the August reading of 7. A positive figure indicates growth, while negative figures denote a shrinking economy.
These reports take on even more significance as Wall Street speculates about what the Federal Reserve's next move will be after last week's half-point interest rate cut. Data that show the economy is continuing to slow could bolster the case for further cuts when the Fed meets next month.
Lennar shares fell 96 cents, or 4 percent, to $23.22 after it posted a loss of $513.9 million for its fiscal third quarter as the company saw sharply lower revenue from falling home prices and booked hefty charges to write down land values.
Target and Lowe's cut their sales forecasts for the year because of uncertainty about the upcoming holiday shopping season. Target fell $2.95, or 4.6 percent, to $61.35, while Lowe's declined $2.04, or 6.7 percent, to $28.51.
Declining issues outnumbered advancers by about 3 to 2 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.33 billion shares compared with 1.35 billion shares traded Monday.
In European trading, Britain's FTSE 100 closed down 1.07 percent, Germany's DAX index fell 0.24 percent, and France's CAC-40 finished down 0.89 percent. In Asia, Japan's Nikkei index rose 0.55 percent and Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index fell 0.46 percent.