* Markets pause after recent rally
* Strong retail sales put floor under market
* Retail sector gains; Coach climbs after upgrade
* Dow off 0.1 pct, S&P 500 off 0.03 pct, Nasdaq off 0.1 pct
By Leah Schnurr
NEW YORK, March 13 U.S. stocks edged lower on
Wednesday, faltering after a rally that has taken the Dow to
all-time highs, though surprisingly strong retail sales
supported the market.
Moves have been muted in recent days as investors
consolidate positions after a strong run-up in the first three
months of the year. Still, weakness in stocks has been met with
buying, which helped propel the Dow on Tuesday to a new record
and its eighth day of gains in a row.
It was the Dow's longest string of gains since an eight-day
run in late January and early February 2011. The broader S&P 500
is within striking distance of its all-time closing high of
Signs of strength in the economy and the Federal Reserve's
easy monetary policy have helped U.S. equities accelerate their
advance. The blue-chip Dow is up 10 percent for the year and the
benchmark S&P 500 index has gained nearly 9 percent.
"The market psychology has changed from selling the rallies
to buying the dips," said Dan Veru, chief investment officer of
Palisade Capital Management in Fort Lee, New Jersey.
"My sense is that this rally is unpredictable to the upside,
not unpredictable to the downside."
Wednesday's retail sales report reinforced the view that the
U.S. economy has momentum, even with the obstacles the recovery
is facing. Sales increased 1.1 percent in February, the largest
increase since September.
Investors had been looking for signs of any impact on
spending from stubbornly high unemployment and a higher payroll
tax that went into effect at the start of the year.
The Morgan Stanley retail index gained 0.4 percent.
Coach shares rose 0.4 percent to $49.01 after
Citigroup raised its rating on the luxury leather goods
company's stock to "buy" from "neutral."
Earlier, the stock had risen as high as $50.09 - up 2.6 percent
from Tuesday's close.
The Dow Jones industrial average slipped 7.26 points,
or 0.05 percent, to 14,442.80. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index
edged down just 0.41 of a point, or 0.03 percent, at
1,552.07. The Nasdaq Composite Index was off 2.72
points, or 0.08 percent, to 3,239.60.
Walgreen jumped 4.1 percent to $42.73 after UBS
raised its rating to a "buy" from "neutral", and lifted its
price target to $48 from $41 on the stock of the largest U.S.
But Express Inc shares slid 7.9 percent to $17.37
after the apparel retailer posted fourth-quarter earnings and
said it was off to a slow start in the first quarter.
The chain caters to 20- to 30-year-olds.
Spectrum Pharmaceuticals shares lost 35.4 percent
to $8.03 after the biotechnology company forecast full-year
sales well below analysts' estimates.