Stocks end mixed; Dow creeps up to new record high

(Reuters) - U.S. stocks ended mixed on Tuesday, with the Dow rising marginally to a second straight record high, as Wall Street digested housing data that some saw as hopeful for an economy struggling to grow.

U.S. housing starts jumped to their highest level in nearly 7-1/2 years in April and permits soared.

Some investors interpreted that as a promising sign that a slow economy may be gaining steam, while others focused on uncertainty about when the Federal Reserve will start raising interest rates to head off inflation.

“There really is a lot of fear about the threat of higher interest rates,” said Jake Dollarhide, chief executive officer of Longbow Asset Management in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “It’s not an ‘if’ story. It’s a ‘when’ story.”

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI rose 13.51 points, or 0.07 percent, to end at 18,312.39 points.

The S&P hit an intraday record of 2,133.02 before ending down 1.37 points, or 0.06 percent, at 2,127.83. The Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 8.41 points, or 0.17 percent, to 5,070.03.

The S&P had closed at record highs on Friday and Monday after a stream of weak economic data suggested that Fed would wait to see more strength in the economy before raising rates.

The S&P is trading at 17.1 times forward earnings, compared with its 10-year median of 14.7, according to Thomson Reuters StarMine.

“We don’t look at this as an overvalued market at all. We look at levels of cash and investments on corporate balance sheets as extremely strong,” said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer of Solaris Group in Bedford Hills, New York.

“Companies are buying back stock, raising dividends. They’re acting in the best interest of shareholders more and more.”

Seven of the 10 major S&P 500 sectors were down, with the energy index .SPNY off 1.23 percent. Oil prices fell as the dollar strengthened and on evidence of ample supplies of Middle Eastern oil despite wars in northern Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

Wal-Mart's WMT.N shares ended down 4.37 percent at $76.43 and were the biggest drag on the Dow and the S&P 500 after the company reported lower-than-expected U.S. same-store sales growth.

Take-Two Interactive TTWO.O jumped 18.26 percent after its profit handily beat market estimates, helped by strong digital sales of "Grand Theft Auto V" and "NBA 2K15" games.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,829 to 1,225, for a 1.49-to-1 ratio on the downside; on the Nasdaq, 1,575 issues fell and 1,194 advanced for a 1.32-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 44 new 52-week highs and 2 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 113 new highs and 51 new lows.

About 5.9 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, below the 6.3 billion average this month, according to BATS Global Markets.

Additional reporting by Sweta Singh and Tanya Agrawal; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Nick Zieminski