Stocks hold close to record levels; GE gains

Stocks hold close to record levels; GE gains on sale of NBC stake, share buyback plans

Associated Press
Futures slide on troubling news from Europe
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Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013 in New York. (AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams)

NEW YORK (AP) -- Stocks were little changed Wednesday, holding close to record levels, as investors lacked a catalyst to push major indexes higher.

The Standard & Poor's 500 rose one point to 1,520 as of 1:46 p.m. EST. The index climbed as high as 1,524 during the day, the highest since November 2007. It is up 6.6 percent so far this year.

The Dow Jones industrial average dropped back below 14,000, shedding 42 points to 13,976. The Dow has gained 6.7 percent this year and is trading within 1 percent of its record close of 14,164 set in October 2007.

"Sometimes the market needs to take a break and consolidate the gains," said Quincy Krosby, a markets strategist for Prudential Financial. "There's a certain respect attributed to crossing certain historical levels."

Investors sent the stocks of General Electric and Comcast higher after GE agreed Tuesday to sell its stake in NBCUniversal to Comcast for $16.7 billion. GE said it would use up to $10 billion of the money to buy back its own stock. GE rose 80 cents to $23.38. Comcast advanced $2.43 to $41.38.

McDonald's had the biggest loss in the Dow, giving up $1.31 to $93.78. Caterpillar was close behind with a decline of 81 cents to $96.41. Eighteen stocks in the 30-member index fell.

Trading has been relatively quiet in recent days following a strong opening to the year. The Dow logged its best January in almost two decades after lawmakers reached a last-minute deal to avoid the "fiscal cliff" of sweeping tax increases and spending cuts. Investors are also becoming more optimistic that the housing market is recovering and that hiring is picking up.

"We're cautiously optimistic on stocks," said Colleen Supran, principal at Bingham, Osborn & Scarborough. "There is some indication that we could be continuing on this slow growth trajectory."

Supran said investors should still be prepared for volatility in the stock market and not assume that the gains from January and so far in February will set the pattern for the rest of the year.

Strengthening the economy and creating jobs were key topics in President Barack Obama's State of the Union address late Tuesday, the first since his re-election. Although the economy is healthier than it was four years ago, growth remains slow and unemployment high.

Obama announced that the U.S. will begin talks with the European Union on a trans-Atlantic trade agreement. He also called for increased spending to fix roads and bridges and the first increase in the minimum wage in six years. The president also challenged deeply divided lawmakers to find compromises to avoid massive, automatic spending cuts that are scheduled to take place March 1.

The government reported that Americans' spending at retail businesses and restaurants slowed last month after higher taxes cut their paychecks. Retail sales growth slowed to 0.1 percent in January, from a 0.5 percent increase in December.

The Nasdaq composite rose 4 points to 3,190.

As stocks have advanced, bond prices have slumped.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which moves inversely to its price, rose 4 basis points to 2.02 percent. The yield on the note has risen more than 30 basis points since the start of the year.

Among other stocks making big moves:

— Groupon rose 36 cents to $5.65 after brokerage firm Sterne, Agee & Leach, raised its rating on the company to "Buy" from "Neutral," citing the long-term potential for Groupon's changing business model. The online deals company has lost almost three quarters of its value since going public in November 2011 at $20 as revenue growth slowed.

— Dean Foods, a milk producer, fell $1.79 to $16.60, after announcing a profit forecast that fell short of Wall Street expectations.

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