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.

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

Deere (NYSE: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 (NASDAQ: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.

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