US STOCKS-Wall St little changed as global growth worries weigh

Mon Mar 4, 2013 10:15am EST

* Concerns about China's economy, Italy's political stalemate

* Investors take breather with stocks at high levels

* Dow down 0.2 pct, S&P down 0.1 pct, Nasdaq down 0.2 pct

By Leah Schnurr

NEW YORK, March 4 (Reuters) - Wall Street was little changed on Monday as investors took worries about global economic growth and the euro zone debt crisis as opportunities to step back from equities that have risen near record highs.

Plans to tighten curbs on the housing market in China and a slowdown in growth of that country's services sector prompted worries about growth in the world's second largest economy.

Announced by China's cabinet late on Friday, the government could increase required downpayments and loan rates for buyers of second homes in cities where prices are rising too quickly, in the latest move to contain housing costs.

China's services industries expanded at the slowest pace in five months in February.

The possibility of another Italian election on the horizon, the automatic spending cuts that are starting to go into effect in the United States and the new from China gave investors the catalysts to take money off the table, analysts said.

"There's still a lot of uncertainty, but it doesn't seem like the weakness has any follow-through because there's a lot of people that have underperformed or are underinvested and jump in on any kind of weakness," said Alan Lancz, president, Alan B. Lancz & Associates Inc in Toledo, Ohio.

The Dow Jones industrial average was off 30.18 points, or 0.21 percent, to 14,059.48. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index slipped 1.33 points, or 0.09 percent, to 1,516.87. The Nasdaq Composite Index fell 5.09 points, or 0.16 percent, to 3,164.65.

Stocks have climbed to multiyear highs in recent months, putting the S&P 500 and Dow within sight of their record high levels. The indexes are up more than 6 percent and 7 percent, respectively, for the year so far.

The Dow is less than 1 percent away from hitting its life-time closing high, while the S&P is 3 percent below its record close.

Providing some support for the market, Janet Yellen, the Federal Reserve's influential vice chairwoman, said the central bank's aggressive monetary stimulus is warranted given how far below its full potential the economy is operating.

Stocks were rattled last month by concerns the Fed could start to wind down its stimulus efforts sooner than expected.

Domestically, the $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts officially started taking effect over the weekend. Stocks have so far shrugged off concerns about the so-called sequester, but signs the cuts are beginning to take a toll on the economy could jostle markets.

Hess Corp rose 4.7 percent to $69.68 after it said it will exit its retail, energy marketing, and energy trading businesses.

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