Stocks edged lower on Wednesday, faltering after a rally that has taken the Dow to all-time highs, though surprisingly strong retail sales supported the market.
Moves have been muted in recent days as investors consolidate positions after a strong run-up in the first three months of the year. Still, weakness in stocks has been met with buying, which helped propel the Dow on Tuesday to a new record and its eighth day of gains in a row.
It was the Dow's longest string of gains since an eight-day run in late January and early February 2011. The broader S&P 500 is within striking distance of its all-time closing high of 1,565.15.
Signs of strength in the economy and the Federal Reserve's easy monetary policy have helped U.S. equities accelerate their advance. The blue-chip Dow is up 10 percent for the year and the benchmark S&P 500 index has gained nearly 9 percent.
"The market psychology has changed from selling the rallies to buying the dips," said Dan Veru, chief investment officer of Palisade Capital Management in Fort Lee, New Jersey.
"My sense is that this rally is unpredictable to the upside, not unpredictable to the downside."
Wednesday's retail sales report reinforced the view that the U.S. economy has momentum, even with the obstacles the recovery is facing. Sales increased 1.1 percent in February, the largest increase since September.
Investors had been looking for signs of any impact on spending from stubbornly high unemployment and a higher payroll tax that went into effect at the start of the year.
The Morgan Stanley retail index <.MVR> gained 0.4 percent.
Coach shares rose 0.4 percent to $49.01 after Citigroup raised its rating on the luxury leather goods company's stock to "buy" from "neutral." [ID:nWNAB00ZZU] Earlier, the stock had risen as high as $50.09 - up 2.6 percent from Tuesday's close.
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> slipped 7.26 points, or 0.05 percent, to 14,442.80. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> edged down just 0.41 of a point, or 0.03 percent, at 1,552.07. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> was off 2.72 points, or 0.08 percent, to 3,239.60.
Walgreen jumped 4.1 percent to $42.73 after UBS raised its rating to a "buy" from "neutral", and lifted its price target to $48 from $41 on the stock of the largest U.S. drugstore chain.
But Express Inc shares slid 7.9 percent to $17.37 after the apparel retailer posted fourth-quarter earnings and said it was off to a slow start in the first quarter. The chain caters to 20- to 30-year-olds.
Spectrum Pharmaceuticals shares lost 35.4 percent to $8.03 after the biotechnology company forecast full-year sales well below analysts' estimates.
(Editing by Jan Paschal)