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The markets failed to pick up momentum Wednesday, with the Dow sitting at record highs, as traders balanced worrisome news from the eurozone with strong U.S. data.
As of 3:26 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 2.9 points, or 0.02%, to 14453, the S&P 500 climbed 1.7 points, or 0.11%, to 1554 and the Nasdaq Composite ticked up 2.06 points, or 0.06%, to 3244.
The Dow logged its eighth-straight advance Tuesday, marking its longest winning streak in more than two years. The blue-chip average also closed at a record high for the sixth day in a row. The broader markets struggled, with the S&P 500 ending in the red for the first time in eight days.
News out of Europe set a mildly bearish tone early Wednesday. Italy auctioned $9.1 billion in government debt, which came close to its targeted allocation. However, demand came in lighter than expected, and the country was forced to pay higher yields across the board than before elections last month.
Italy has been marred in uncertainty since the messy elections left it without a unified government. The political uncertainty prompted a downgrade from Fitch and warnings from many analysts.
"The results (of the auction) may suggest that the market is beginning to redress the recent complacency our rates strategists have noted," analysts at Nomura told clients Wednesday.
Rome's 10-year borrowing costs on secondary markets rose 0.1-percentage point to 4.69% on the heels of the tepid auction, according to The Wall Street Journal. Still, credit markets have broadly shrugged off concerns about Italy amid hopes the European Central Bank will take steps to keep borrowing costs from surging.
Traders also got a round of data on the factory sector in the eurozone. Industrial production dipped 0.4% in January from December, more than the 0.1% drop economists expected. The data come as the latest sign that the 17-member currency bloc is still struggling to recover from its debt crisis.
However, the U.S. Commerce Department said sales by retailers jumped 1.1% in February from the month before, easily beating expectations of an increase of 0.5%. The data came as especially good news since February represented the second month consumers were forced to deal with a 2% payroll tax hike, along with high gasoline prices, which some economists worried would crimp demand. Indeed, Dan Greenhaus, chief global strategist at BTIG, wrote in an email that "consumers showed remarkable resiliency" in February in light of those issues.
Separately, the Labor Department reported import prices rose 1.1% last month to the highest level since August due to to a big increase in fuel prices. Economists expected a slimmer 0.5% gain. Meanwhile, export prices rose 0.8%, a bigger rise than the 0.3% forecast.
Another report, also from Commerce, showed business inventories climbing 1% in January from December, beating expectations of a 0.4% increase. Between the strong retail sales print and the inventory data, Barclays boosted its first-quarter economic growth estimate 0.6-percentage point to 2.5%.
On the corporate front, Coach (COH) shares rallied after Citigroup (C) upgraded the luxury retailer to "buy" from "neutral," noting the company's "good upside potential." Boeing (BA) got a green light from the Federal Aviation Administration to begin testing a redesigned battery for the 787 Dreamliner in its bid to get the plane back in use.
Elsewhere, oil and gasoline futures were little changed. The benchmark U.S. crude oil contract fell 2 cents, or 0.02%, to $92.52 a barrel. Wholesale New York Harbor gasoline dipped 0.25% to $3.142 a gallon. Gold fell $3.30, or 0.21%, to $1,588 a troy ounce.
The Euro Stoxx 50 fell 0.52% to 2698, the English FTSE 100 sold off 0.87% to 6454 and the German DAX dipped 0.13% to 7956.
In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 dropped 0.61% to 12240 and the Chinese Hang Seng plummeted 1.5% to 22557.