* Consumer confidence, Case Shiller better than expected
* Midwest business activity registers an August slowdown
* Monsanto off after outlook, RIM falls on analyst comment
* Dow up 0.3 pct, S&P up 0.2 pct, Nasdaq flat
(Updates to early afternoon)
By Ryan Vlastelica
NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks rose in choppy
trading Tuesday, closing out a weak month for equities as a
pair of positive data surprises on the consumer and housing
fronts helped ease investor anxiety over the economy's
U.S. consumer confidence rose more than expected in
August, lifted by a mild improvement in the short-term
outlook, though a separate report showed business activity in
the U.S. Midwest registered a slowdown in August, growing a
bit less than economists expected.
Earlier, the Standard & Poor's/Case Shiller home price
indexes showed prices of U.S. single-family homes rose
slightly more than expected in June, reflecting the lingering
lift from homebuyer tax credits that ended in April.
"The fact that two of the weakest areas of the overall
economy (the consumer and the housing sector) can show
resilience, even for a short time, suggests that other areas
will also be moving on into growth," said Bruce McCain, chief
investment strategist at Key Private Bank in Cleveland, Ohio.
Equities have been pressured in recent weeks by bearish
economic data and anemic trading volume, which has exacerbated
moves. In the month of August, a reading of manufacturing
activity in the Mid-Atlantic region and U.S. housing starts
for July both missed expectations.
For the month, the Dow is down 4 percent, while the S&P is
off 4.5 percent and the Nasdaq is down 5.8 percent.
This Friday, investors will be paying close attention to
the August non-farm payroll number, which is expected to
confirm that the economy shed jobs during the month, keeping
investors reluctant to hold positions.
The Dow Jones industrial average was up 31.97
points, or 0.32 percent, at 10,041.70. The Standard & Poor's
500 Index was up 2.47 points, or 0.24 percent, at
1,051.39. The Nasdaq Composite Index was up 0.97 of a
point, or 0.05 percent, at 2,120.94.
Before rebounding, the S&P 500 neared 1,040 in early
trading, a key support level that was successfully defended
twice last week.
Bouncing off the 1,040 level shows "that this is a market
driven by technicals," said Wayne Kaufman, chief market
analyst at the New York-based John Thomas Financial.
The Dow and S&P trimmed gains after Jason Furman, an
economic adviser to President Barack Obama, told a meeting
Tuesday there was a concern that even a temporary extension of
the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy would be a "foot in the
door" to permanent extension.
Limiting the S&P 500's gain was Monsanto Co , the
index's top percentage decliner, falling 6.1 percent to $52.52
after it forecast full-year earnings below expectations and
said it would further reduce its work force.
The Nasdaq's advance was curbed by Research in Motion Ltd
. The Canadian's company's U.S.-listed shares
lost 5.3 percent to $43.18 after Sanford C. Bernstein cut its
price target on the stock, citing a threat to the contribution
to earnings from the BlackBerry maker's corporate business.
On the upside, Pfizer Inc rose 1.1 percent to
$16.03 after researchers said an experimental drug the Dow
component made with Bristol-Myers Squibb Co reduced
the risk of stroke by more than half compared with aspirin,
with no significant rise in major bleeding.
Saks Inc surged 22.6 percent to $8.08 after a news
report suggested that a group of private equity firms might
soon bid for the New York-based luxury department store
Later Tuesday, the Federal Reserve is scheduled to
release the minutes from its policy meeting on Aug. 10, when
it endorsed a more dovish monetary posture, citing a
willingness to "reinvest" in monetary accommodation. Last
week, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said in a speech the recovery
had weakened more than expected.
(Editing by Jan Paschal)