* S&P 500 hits resistance at 2013 year-end mark
* Target and Lowe's rally after results
* J.C. Penney shares jump after the bell
* January new home sales surge past forecasts
* Dow up 0.1 pct; S&P 500 flat; Nasdaq up 0.1 pct
By Caroline Valetkevitch
NEW YORK, Feb 26 U.S. stocks finished flat on
Wednesday with investors hesitant to make a big move on the day
before comments from Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, though
retailers' shares rallied on results for a second day.
Target Corp and Lowe's Cos Inc shares jumped
following upbeat earnings and gave the biggest boosts to the S&P
500. An S&P 500 retail index gained more than 1 percent
for a second day.
After the bell, shares of J.C. Penney Co Inc climbed
12.8 percent to $6.72 as the U.S. department store chain
forecast more improvement in its comparable sales and gross
profit margin this fiscal year.
The S&P 500 once again briefly broke above its 2013 year-end
closing level of 1,848.36, which has served as resistance, but
failed to hold above it, analysts said. The index remained down
0.2 percent for the year.
"From a technical perspective, we're battling with the
year-to-date break-even mark on the S&P," said Todd Salamone,
vice president of research at Schaeffer's Investment Research in
Cincinnati, Ohio. "It just seems ... there's no firm commitment
to drive the S&P back above this particular level."
But he said the market also seems to be biding time until
Thursday, when Yellen addresses the Senate Banking Committee in
semiannual testimony about monetary policy. This appearance,
originally set for Feb. 13, had to be postponed when Washington
was walloped with the heaviest snowfall of the season.
Her comments will be scrutinized for insight into how much
an unexpectedly cold winter has affected economic activity, and
for confirmation that the Fed will maintain its
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 18.75 points or
0.12 percent, to end at 16,198.41. The S&P 500 inched up
a mere 0.04 of a point to finish at 1,845.16. The Nasdaq
Composite added 4.477 points or 0.10 percent, to close
The S&P 500 reached a record intraday high of 1,858.71 on
Monday, but was unable to hit a record close.
The small-cap Russell 2000 index ., however, climbed to
a record closing high of 1,181.72 on Wednesday.
Adding to investor anxiety were developments in Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin put 150,000 combat troops on
high alert for war games near Ukraine.
In the retail sector, Target's stock jumped 7 percent to
close at $60.49 after the company reported results. The
third-largest U.S. retailer said sales and earnings had been
affected by a massive data breach and that costs relating to the
event could hurt future profits.
Lowe's stock rose 5.4 percent to end at $50.72 after the No.
2 U.S. home improvement retailer reported earnings and sales
growth and unveiled an additional stock-buyback program of $5
The S&P 500 retail index gained 1.4 percent. Wednesday's
strong retail performance came a day after upbeat results from
Home Depot and Macy's.
On the economic front, new home sales surged to a 5-1/2-year
high in January, far exceeding expectations. While much recent
data has been below forecasts, analysts have attributed that to
bad weather rather than worsening fundamentals. The housing data
could support that interpretation.
The day's decliners included First Solar Inc,
whose shares fell a day after the U.S. solar panel maker
reported that its fourth-quarter net income fell 58
percent. First Solar's stock slid 9.1 percent to
end Wednesday's session at $52.74.
Among other after-the-bell movers, shares of Autodesk
rose 3.7 percent to $56.76 following the release of the
computer-aided design (CAD) software maker's results.
About 6.9 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges,
below the 7 billion average so far this month, according to data
from BATS Global Markets.
Advancers beat decliners by a ratio of slightly more than 3
to 2 on both the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq.