US STOCKS-Dow, S&P 500 inch up with retailers but Apple drags again

Tue Jan 15, 2013 4:35pm EST

* Apple extends losses to a third day

* Retailers advance after December sales data

* Debt ceiling debate, earnings worries hurt sentiment

* Indexes: Dow up 0.2 pct, S&P up 0.1 pct, Nasdaq down 0.2 pct

By Caroline Valetkevitch

NEW YORK, Jan 15 (Reuters) - The Dow and S&P 500 edged higher on Tuesday after stronger-than-expected retail data, though tech heavyweight Apple dragged on the market for a third day.

Apple was the biggest weight on both the S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100 after reports on Monday of cuts to orders for iPhone parts. Shares declined 3.2 percent to $485.92 and closed below $500 for the first time since February.

Retail stocks advanced after a government report showing retail sales rose more than expected in December was seen as a favorable sign for fourth-quarter growth. A separate report showed manufacturing activity in New York state contracted for the sixth month in a row in January.

"A little better-than-expected news on retail sales once again reinforces that the consumer remains alive and reasonably well," said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia, which manages about $54 billion in assets.

Among retailers, American Eagle Outfitters Inc gained 4.8 percent to $20.58 and Gap Inc rose 3.4 percent to $32.46. The Morgan Stanley retail index advanced 1.5 percent.

Express Inc surged 23.8 percent to $17.40 after the apparel retailer raised its fourth-quarter and full year 2012 outlook.

The Dow Jones industrial average was up 27.57 points, or 0.20 percent, at 13,534.89. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was up 1.66 points, or 0.11 percent, at 1,472.34. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 6.72 points, or 0.22 percent, at 3,110.78.

Apple's stock has lost about 7 percent in the last three sessions and is down 8.7 percent since the start of the year.

"It's tough to discern exactly what's putting the pressure on it. But at the end of the day, its influence, considering it's still 3 1/2 to 4 percent of the S&P 500 index, is being felt," Luschini said.

"I attribute (it) to just some of the bloom coming off of the rose. They haven't necessarily done anything wrong, as much as others have caught up."

Also keeping investors on edge is the looming debt ceiling debate. On Monday, President Barack Obama rejected any negotiations with Republicans over raising the U.S. debt ceiling. The United States could default on its debt if Congress does not increase the borrowing limit.

Resolving the debt ceiling is more a question of how than if. Investors don't expect a U.S. default, but they are also wary of another eleventh-hour agreement like the one in August 2011.

An expected lackluster earnings season, too, kept investors from taking aggressive bets. Analyst estimates for the quarter have fallen sharply since October. S&P 500 earnings growth is now seen up just 1.8 percent from a year ago, Thomson Reuters data showed.

Homebuilder Lennar reported a sharp rise in quarterly profit, but the stock declined 0.8 percent to $40.68 on worries that growth in orders was slowing.

Dell Inc shares added to Monday's gains, ending up 7.2 percent to $13.17 after sources said talks to take the computer maker private are in an advanced stage.

On the down side, shares of Facebook dropped 2.7 percent to $30.10. The company unveiled a "graph search" feature that CEO Mark Zuckerberg said would help its billion-plus users sort through content within the social network and its content feeds.

Volume was roughly 5.8 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and the NYSE MKT, compared with the 2012 average daily closing volume of about 6.45 billion.

Advancers outpaced decliners on the NYSE by about 17 to 12 and on the Nasdaq by about 13 to 11.