Mixed Markets: S&P Stalls, Dow Slips

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The markets struggled to find direction Wednesday, drifting between positive and negative territory, as traders braced for a raft of corporate news due after the close.

Today's Markets

According to preliminary calculations, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 36.1 points, or 0.26%, to 13983, the S&P 500 rose 0.87 point, or 0.06%, to 1520 and the Nasdaq Composite advanced 10.4 points, or 0.33%, to 3197.

The worst performers could be found among the telecom, utility, financial and health-care sectors. Meanwhile industrials and materials broadly outperformed. 

The Commerce Department said U.S. retail sales rose 0.1% in January from December, as expected. Excluding the auto segment, sales were up 0.2%, slightly above the 0.1% estimated. In addition to being the first glimpse of first-quarter retail performance, they will also be the first indicator of how the 2% hike in payroll taxes is impacting consumers, according to Dan Greenhaus, chief global strategist at BTIG. 

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Meanwhile, a separate report from Commerce showed U.S. import prices jumped 0.6% in January from December, slightly less than the 0.7% expected, while export prices rose 0.3% as expected.

In corporate news, Comcast (CMCSA) revealed plans to purchase General Electric's (GE) 49% common stock stake in NBCUniversal for $16.7 billion after the closing bell on Tuesday. Shares of both companies jumped. 

Deere (DE) also posted considerably better-than-expected quarterly results and lifted its full-year outlook, sending shares of the equipment-maker climbing. Earnings from networking heavyweight Cisco (CSCO) are on tap after the closing bell. 

Elsewhere, oil futures were slightly to the downside. The benchmark U.S. contract fell 50 cents, or 0.51%, to $97.01 a barrel. Wholesale New York Harbor gasoline dipped 0.49% to $3.035 a gallon. Gold slipped $4.50, or 0.27%, to $1,645 a troy ounce. 

Foreign Markets

The Euro Stoxx 50 rose 0.22% to 2655, the English FTSE 100 gained 0.29% to 6357 and the German DAX climbed 0.61% to 7707. 

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 sold off by 1% to 11251.

Follow Adam Samson on Twitter @adamsamson

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