* U.S. housing starts, permits tumble in January
* Fed minutes due at 2:00 p.m. EST
* Dow off 0.3 pct; S&P 500 down 0.3 pct; Nasdaq off 0.6 pct
By Angela Moon
NEW YORK, Feb 19 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks declined on Wednesday in midday trading as the S&P 500 faced a technical resistance level after a recent string of gains and investors turned cautious ahead of the release of the minutes from the Federal Reserve’s latest policy meeting.
At 2:00 p.m. EST (1900 GMT), the Fed will release minutes from its January policy meeting, when the U.S. central bank decided to further trim its monthly bond-buying program.
“I don’t think the market is going to be surprised, but there is always caution ahead of these minutes. I think the one thing to look for is the collaboration between Bernanke and Yellen since this was Bernanke’s last meeting,” said Randy Frederick, managing director at Charles Schwab, in Austin, Texas.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 40.30 points or 0.25 percent, to 16,090.10. The S&P 500 slipped 5.69 points or 0.31 percent, to 1,835.07. The Nasdaq Composite dropped 24.305 points or 0.57 percent, to 4,248.478.
“Today’s trading is just sideway moves because the S&P 500 is facing technical resistance,” Frederick added, citing the index’s record high as the resistance level.
The S&P 500 set an all-time intraday high of 1,850.84 on Jan. 15, and closed that day at a record high of 1,848.38.
U.S. housing starts recorded their biggest drop in almost three years in January, likely due to harsh winter weather, though the third month of declines in permits pointed to some underlying weakness in the housing market.
The data was among a slew of recent economic reports affected by a severe U.S. winter, including U.S. homebuilder confidence index on Tuesday, which suffered its largest one-month drop in February.
Tesla shares were in focus a day after they hit an all-time high of $206.00. Shares of the electric car maker, which reports earnings after the close, fell 4.5 percent to $194.39.
Herbalife Ltd shares slid 4.5 percent to $65.86 a day after the nutritional-supplement company reported fourth-quarter earnings.
Kay Jewelers parent Signet Jewelers said it would buy smaller rival Zale Corp for $21 per share in cash, valuing the mid-tier jeweler at about $690 million. The offer represents a premium of about 41 percent to Zale’s close of $14.91 on the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday. Shares of Signet Jewelers gained nearly 17 percent to $92.69. Zale jumped 40 percent to $20.88.
Separate data showed U.S. producer prices rose for a second straight month in January, pushed up by an increase in the cost of goods, but there was little sign of a broad pick-up in inflation pressures at the factory gate.