US STOCKS-Wall St edges down after S&P 500 flirts with record

Reuters - UK Focus

* U.S. housing starts, permits tumble in January

* S&P 500 trades within 4 points of its record intraday high

* Indexes down: Dow 0.1 pct; S&P 500 0.2 pct; Nasdaq 0.5 pct

By Rodrigo Campos

NEW YORK (Frankfurt: HX6.F - news) , Feb 19 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks edged lower onWednesday with the S&P 500 facing technical resistance near itsrecord high, while economic data continued to be blurred byextreme weather.

Minutes from the Federal Reserve's policy-settingcommittee's most recent meeting, which showed Fed officials werenearing a decision how to adjust a promise to keep interestrates low for a while to come, didn't give the market cleardirection either.

Wednesday's data gave the latest evidence that an extremelycold winter was putting a big dent in the economy, but theequity market continued to mostly dismiss it.

U.S. housing starts recorded their biggest drop in almostthree years in January. The seasonally-adjusted producer priceindex for final demand rose 0.2 percent, no real indication of abroad pick-up in inflation pressures.

However, some economists lowered their first-quarter growthestimates on the back of the weak starts data. Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS-PB - news) lowered its first-quarter growth estimate by a tenth of apercentage point to a 1.8 percent annual rate. Barclays (LSE: BARC.L - news) cut itsforecast by 0.3 percentage point to a 1.9 percent rate.

"I do think we need some time to gain more insight into thevisibility of economic improvement, and that's going to requireanother round of economic data," said Terry Sandven, chiefequity strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management in Minneapolis.

He said he expects the market to trade "sideways with anupward bias," and the "fundamental backdrop remains favorablefor equities."

The data was among a slew of recent economic reportsaffected by a severe U.S. winter, including a U.S. homebuilderconfidence index on Tuesday, which suffered its largest everone-month drop in February. The weather was also largely blamedfor the sharp slowdown in hiring in December.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 15.93 points or0.1 percent, to 16,114.47, the S&P 500 lost 4.25 pointsor 0.23 percent, to 1,836.51 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 21.071 points or 0.49 percent, to 4,251.712.

The S&P 500 set an all-time intraday high of 1,850.84 onJan. 15, and came within 4 points of that level at its sessionhigh on Wednesday. The Nasdaq was on track to halt an eight-daystring of gains.

Earnings continue to trickle in, but not at a pace strongenough to dictate the market's direction.

With 83 percent of S&P 500 components having reportedearnings, 65.9 percent have beaten earnings expectations, abovethe median since 1994 of 63 percent earnings beats. The averagein the past four quarters is 67 percent.

Tesla shares fell 4.5 percent to $194.39, a dayafter they hit an all-time high of $206.00. The electric carmaker reports earnings after the close.

Herbalife Ltd (NYSE: HLF - news) shares slid 4.5 percent to $65.86 aday after the nutritional-supplement company reportedfourth-quarter earnings.

Chelsea Therapeutics soared 23 percent to $6.09 aday after its drug Northera, which treats a rare form of lowblood pressure associated with neurological disorders such asParkinson's disease, won approval from the U.S. Food and DrugAdministration.

Kay Jewelers parent Signet Jewelers said it would buysmaller rival Zale Corp for $21 per share in cash, valuing themid-tier jeweler at about $690 million. The offer represents apremium of about 41 percent to Zale (Frankfurt: ZLC.F - news) 's close of $14.91 onTuesday.

Shares of Signet Jewelers gained 18.1 percent to$93.61. Zale jumped 40.2 percent to $20.90.

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