Stocks Falter After Pending-Home Sales

Stocks pulled back Thursday after a report showed an unexpected drop in pending-home sales.

Stocks had opened higher Thursday after a report showed jobless claims fell last week and retail sales came in better than expected.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up just a few points, while the S&P 500 and Nasdaq were lower.

Pending-home sales fell 7.6 percentin January due to rough weather in the Northeast, the National Association of Realtors reported. Still, the gauge is up 12.3 percent from a year ago.

Among the other mid-morning reports: Factory orders rose 1.7 percent in January, the Commerce Department reported, the biggest increase in four months. And mortgage rates fell last week: The 30-year fixed dropped to 4.97 percent from 5.05 percent the prior week.

Earlier, the Labor Department reported that jobless claims fell by 29,000last week, roughly on par with expectations. At the same time, productivity improved.

This came after a pair of encouraging jobs reports yesterday — ADP reported the private sector shed 20,000 jobs in February and Challenger, Gray & Christmas reported that planned layoffs dropped to 42,090, their lowest level in four years.

All three are being closely watched ahead of Friday's jobs report, which is currently expected to show 50,000 jobs were dropped from payrolls last month and the unemployment rate ticked up to 9.8 percent.

The Dow has had single digit moves in three of the past four sessions, something that's not been seen since February 2007. That comes ahead of Friday's February jobs report and the continuing uncertainty over the Greek debt crisis.

Disney, Coke and Boeing were the biggest gainers on the Dow. All three benefited from analyst upgrades: UBS raised its rating on Coke to "buy" and its rating on Boeing to "neutral." Bank of America/Merrill Lynch raised its rating on Disney to "buy."

Among the early buzz in the market, Greece is launching of a 10-year euro-denominated bond issue. Demand for that issue will send more clear signals to the markets about Greece's chances for climbing out of its financial hole. Early indications are that the bond is strongly oversubscribed. The Greek government plans to raise 5 billion euros, with orders now reaching more than 14 billion euros.

Both the Bank of England and the European Central Bank left interest rates unchanged.

Retailers released February sales this morning, topping expectations, as leaner inventories and fewer discounts helped offset bad weather.

Macy's was up more than 1 percent and teen chain Abercrombie & Fitchshot up 10 percent.

Wal-Mart rose after the discount chain raised its dividend.

Throughout the morning, the nation's retailers will be releasing their individual same-store sales figures for February. They may vary widely, with bad weather in the Northeast likely having an impact.

Drug maker Dendreon could be a stock to watch today, on news that its cancer vaccine Provenge improves three-year survival rates by 40 percent.

Still to Come:

THURSDAY: Citi's Pandit testifies at COP hearing; pending-home sales; factory orders; Fed's Bullard, Evans speak; Earnings from Marvell Tech after the bell
FRIDAY: February jobs report; consumer credit

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