NEW YORK Stocks ended little changed on Tuesday in what investors described as a fatigued market after the S&P 500 rose in seven of the past eight sessions.
Retailers were a notable standout after Home Depot (HD.N) raised its profit forecast due to improvement in the housing market and U.S. retail sales data that was stronger than expected, though earlier figures were revised lower. The S&P Retail Index .RLX rose 0.9 percent, giving an early boost to the market.
But with the S&P 500 up 12 percent so far this year, gains came off by the afternoon. In the last five sessions, the S&P has not moved more than 0.22 percent in either direction and volume has declined in what is normally a seasonally slow period.
"For the past week or two, the market rally has been largely driven by the absence of sellers and complacency that things will be OK until the end of the month, at least," said James Dailey, portfolio manager at TEAM Asset Strategy fund in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
The S&P 500 is within a stone's throw of new four-year highs, leaving investors looking for new catalysts to move the market higher. Just 5.16 billion shares changed hands on the three major U.S. exchanges, a light day of trading.
Home Depot Inc (HD.N), the world's largest home improvement chain, gained 3.6 percent to $54.71 and gave the Dow the greatest boost after the company reported a higher-than-expected quarterly profit and kept a tight lid on costs to offset weakness in sales.
Home Depot is seeing improvements in California and Florida, states that were hit hard by the housing downturn, according to Chief Executive Officer Frank Blake. His comments helped lift housing stocks, and the Dow Jones Home Construction index .DJUSHB rose 0.3 percent.
The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI rose 2.71 points, or 0.02 percent, to 13,172.14. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX was down 0.18 point, or 0.01 percent, at 1,403.93. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC was down 5.54 points, or 0.18 percent, at 3,016.98.
U.S. retail sales rose 0.8 percent in July, the biggest increase since February and better than a forecast 0.3 percent rise. The previous month's numbers were revised to minus 0.7 percent from minus 0.5 percent.
"The next two weeks of data will lead into the annual Fed meeting at Jackson Hole," said Peter Cecchini, managing director at Cantor Fitzgerald & Co in New York, noting that while the headline numbers from the retail sales data exceeded expectations, the previous month's numbers were also revised.
"The revision will likely be ignored, but it produces a print slightly worse than expectations," Cecchini said. He added that the data was important because U.S. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has traditionally used the Jackson Hole venue as an opportunity to signal Fed direction.
The better retail sales data dovetailed with strong earnings reports from niche retailers like Estee Lauder (EL.N).
Reports from smaller retailers also supported the thesis of robust consumer spending that may help lift overall growth.
Michael Kors Holdings Ltd (KORS.N) surged 16.5 percent to $49.33 after the apparel company reported higher-than-expected quarterly profit and raised its full-year profit forecast.
Estee Lauder jumped 9.3 percent to $60.13 after the cosmetics and fragrance maker reported a higher-than-expected quarterly profit and forecast more sales growth this year.
But Groupon Inc (GRPN.O) tumbled 27 percent to $5.51 after the world's largest online provider of daily deals missed quarterly revenue expectations and gave a cautious profit outlook.
The 5.16 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the American Stock Exchange and Nasdaq was well below last year's daily average of 7.84 billion.
(Reporting by Angela Moon; Editing by Dan Grebler)