Stock indexes stall at long-term level

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Stocks are edging lower today as the S&P 500 remains stuck at long-term resistance.

Futures on the index are down by about one-tenth of 1 percent, following losses modest losses in Europe. Japan's Nikkei also declined by more than 1 percent on news that the future head of the country's central bank may be less willing to buy assets than investors had hoped.

After a screaming 5 percent rally in January, the S&P 500 has added only another 1.6 percent in the first half of February. The slowing momentum occurs as the index challenges a key resistance level from late 2007. It also comes as corporate earnings season--usually a bullish catalyst--winds down and attention potentially shifts to political risk in Washington and economic weakness in Europe.

Today is also likely to be a light trading session before the three-day weekend in the United States, with markets closed for Presidents Day on Monday. There are three relatively minor data releases today: The New York Federal Reserve's Empire Manufacturing Index and national industrial-production figures are scheduled for the pre-market, while consumer sentiment follows at 9:55 a.m. ET.

Foreign-exchange markets are modestly bearish: The euro, Australian dollar, and Canadian dollar, which tend to follow risk appetite, are all lower. The Japanese yen is also higher against most other currencies, a sign of caution.

Oil is down by about one-third of 1 percent, though copper is holding small gains. Precious metals continued to slide, this time after it was reported that billionaire investor George Soros slashed his investments in gold last quarter. Most agricultural foodstuffs are higher.

In company-specific news, Herbalife is rallying almost 20 percent after activist investor Carl Icahn increased his stake in the company and expressed interest in a leveraged buyout. Qlik Technologies and Datalink are strong following strong quarterly results, while CBS and Kraft Foods are down slightly following mixed reports.

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