Stocks were little changed on Wednesday after the S&P 500 index hit a November 2007 intraday high, but volume was low and investors stayed cautious with indexes near multi-year closing highs.
The benchmark index got a boost from Comcast Corp when the cable company said it will buy the rest of NBC Universal for $16.7 billion from General Electric Co .
Equities have been strong performers until recently, buoyed largely by healthy growth in corporate earnings, which helped the S&P 500 to rise 6.5 percent so far this year. The Dow industrials are about 1 percent away from an all-time intraday high, reached in October 2007.
Those gains could leave the market vulnerable to a pullback as investors take profits amid a dearth of new catalysts. While analysts see an upward bias in stocks, recent daily moves have been small and trading volumes light with indexes at multi-year highs.
"I was expecting a 12-15 percent return on the S&P for the whole year of 2013, and we have done about half of that in just 5-6 weeks," said Jack De Gan, principal at Harbor Advisory in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
"We will hit resistance, but the fundamentals and micro picture are looking good, so if there is a correction it's going to be a brief one."
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> was down 52.99 points, or 0.38 percent, at 13,965.71. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> was down 0.61 points, or 0.04 percent, at 1,518.82. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> was up 3.35 points, or 0.11 percent, at 3,189.85.
Economic data proved no catalyst giving investors direction. The government said retail sales rose 0.1 percent in January, as expected. Tax increases and higher gasoline prices restrained spending.
The S&P 500 was well over its 50-day moving average of 1,460.92, a sign the market could be overbought.
Comcast agreed late Tuesday to buy General Electric Co's remaining 49 percent stake in NBC Universal for $16.7 billion. Comcast jumped 6.2 percent to $41.40 as the S&P's top percentage gainer while Dow component GE was up 3 percent to $23.26.
Deere & Co reported earnings that beat expectations and raised its full-year profit outlook. After initially rallying in premarket trading, the stock fell 2.3 percent to $91.80.
According to the latest Thomson Reuters data, of the 353 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported results, 70.3 percent have exceeded analysts' expectations, above a 62 percent average since 1994 and 65 percent over the past four quarters.
Fourth-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies are estimated to have risen 5.3 percent, according to the data, above a 1.9 percent forecast at the start of the earnings season.
Industrial and construction shares were lower even though in his State of the Union address President Barack Obama called for $50 billion in spending to create jobs by rebuilding degraded roads and bridges.
The Dow Jones Home Construction index <.DJUSHB> was off 0.2 percent.
(Reporting By Angela Moon; Editing by Kenneth Barry)