US stock indexes drift in early trading as market comes off its latest record highs; Oil falls

EnergyAssociated Press

U.S. stocks are drifting mostly lower in early trading as the market comes off its latest record high. Major markets in Europe rallied after a European Central Bank official said it would step up its stimulus program.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average shed 4 points, less than 0.1 percent, to 18,297 as of 10:19 a.m. Eastern time Tuesday. The Standard & Poor's 500 lost one point to 2,129, and the Nasdaq composite picked up one point to 5,080.

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MORE HOUSES: Builders started work on new houses at the fastest pace in seven years, the government reported early Tuesday. The Commerce Department said that housing starts jumped 20.2 percent to an annual rate of 1.14 million homes, the fastest clip since November 2007.

REACTION: The housing report drove up homebuilders' stocks: PulteGroup, Lennar and D.R. Horton all climbed 1 percent. "The housing market comes back in the spring, is what realtors always say, and boy is this true today," said Christopher Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank, in a note to clients.

TIGHT BUDGET: Before the market opened, Wal-Mart Stores turned in sluggish sales and a drop in quarterly earnings as raises for workers and a rising dollar put pressure on its profits. Overall results for the world's largest retailer came up short of Wall Street's estimates. Wal-Mart's stock sank $2.60, or 3 percent, to $77.26.

POW: Take-Two Interactive, which makes the "Grand Theft Auto" video games, surged 15 percent after reporting earnings that were sharply higher than analysts had expected. The company's stock jumped $3.69 to $27.89.

EUROPE: Germany's DAX added 1.9 percent, while France's CAC 40 rose 1.9 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 gained 0.4 percent.

TO THE RESCUE: Investors were cheered by an ECB official's remark that the central bank would step up its bond-buying stimulus program in May and June in anticipation of slow trading in July and August. The program tends to boost stock and bond markets and weaken the euro, which fell in currency markets Tuesday.

Greece was also in focus after its finance minister said he expects an agreement with bailout creditors within the next week, potentially saving the cash-strapped country from defaulting on its debts. The talks have run on for almost four months.

ASIA'S DAY: The Shanghai Composite Index rose 3.1 percent, and Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.4 percent. Tokyo's Nikkei 225 rose 0.7 percent.

CRUDE: Benchmark U.S. crude fell for a third day running, losing $1.37 to $58.06 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

BONDS & DOLLARS: U.S. government bond prices fell, driving the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note up to 2.28 percent from 2.24 percent. The euro lost strength against the dollar, falling to $1.1155 from $1.1303. The dollar rose to 120.44 yen from 120.01 yen.