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Stocks slip following homebuilding slowdown
First Published Feb 20 2013 07:52 am • Last Updated Feb 20 2013 09:38 am

NEW YORK • Stock market indexes flipped between small gains and losses early Wednesday after the government reported that housing construction slowed down during the first month of the year.

The Dow Jones industrial average was up seven points at 14,043 one hour after the opening bell.

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The Standard & Poor’s 500 index dropped three points to 1,528. The Nasdaq composite fell eight points to 3,206.

The Dow closed at its highest level of the year Tuesday, bringing it within one percent of 14,164, the record high reached more than five years ago.

Even though builders eased their pace in January, the Department of Commerce reported that new housing starts remained strong. Builders started construction at an annual rate of 890,000 last month, down 8.5 percent from December. Applications for building permits increased.

Boeing led the Dow higher, rising 1 percent. An investigation into the overheating of a battery that caused a Boeing 787 to make an emergency landing in Japan last month found that it was incorrectly wired. Separately, Boeing’s engineers approved the company’s contract offer late Tuesday, defusing a showdown that could have resulted in a strike.

The stock market surged at the start of the year, then drifted slightly higher in recent weeks with few major events to drive trading one way or another. That could change quickly, once Congress returns from vacation next Monday. Deep federal spending cuts are scheduled to start March 1 unless Congress and the White House find a way to avoid them.

Both the Dow and the S&P 500 have gained more than 7 percent for the year. The Nasdaq is up more than 6 percent.

In the U.S. government bond market, the yield on the 10-year Treasury note edged up to 2.04 percent from 2.03 percent late Tuesday. The yield, which is used as a benchmark rate for mortgages and other loans, has climbed steadily higher since the start of the year, when it traded around 1.70 percent.

Among companies making moves:

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— GPS device maker Garmin slumped 9 percent, the biggest drop in the S&P 500 index, after the company’s results missed analysts’ forecasts. Demand has waned for handheld navigation devices as more customers use maps on their smartphones.

— Food giant ConAgra gained 1 percent after it raised its profit forecast for the year. The company, whose brands include Chef Boyardee, said its acquisition of Ralcorp will add a nickel per share to adjusted earnings this year.

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