Housing Data Trips Stocks

U.S. technology stocks rose Monday, pulled higher by positive broker comments on companies such as Dell Inc. (DELL), but renewed signs of weakness in the housing market halted a five-day winning streak for the Dow.

The Dow ended down 11.94 points, or 0.10 percent, at 12,469.07 — ending its longest winning streak since early February.

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But the Standard & Poor's 500 Index rose 1.39 points, or 0.10 percent, to end at 1,437.50. The Nasdaq Composite Index inched up 6.70 points, or 0.27 percent, to close at 2,455.63.

Following the start of trade, new-home sales data sent the market tumbling, with the Dow Jones industrial average down more than 100 points.

But, in the last hour of trade, advances in shares of tech companies, including Apple Inc. (AAPL) and eBay Inc. (EBAY) , helped the Nasdaq turn positive, while a 0.7 percent jump in shares of Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) cut some of the Dow's losses.

"The turnaround seemed to be led by a lot of technology stocks that seemed to be having strong rallies today," said John O'Brien, senior vice president at MKM Partners LLC in Cleveland.

"When a brokerage comes out and says the turnaround at Dell looks solid, that helps lift part of the overall market. Dell is a bellwether stock. It also seem's there could be more mergers-and-acquisitions activity in tech in particular."

Dell shares rose 3.5 percent, or 79 cents, to $23.62 on the Nasdaq after Goldman Sachs (GS) upgraded the computer maker's stock to "buy" from "neutral" amid calls on Wall Street for the company to cut jobs and improve profit margins. .

Separately, Goldman Sachs raised its quarterly revenue outlook for Internet auctioneer eBay Inc.

The stock rose 4.4 percent, or $1.39, to $33.22 on the Nasdaq.

Shares of Apple, the maker of the iPod digital media player, finished up 2.5 percent, or $2.33, at $95.85.

But shares of bellwethers for the economy such as 3M Co. (MMM), a diversified manufacturer and among big consumers of fuel, declined amid rising crude oil prices and concerns about housing. 3M shares were the biggest drag on the Dow, down 0.76 percent, or 59 cents, at $77.38 on the New York Stock Exchange.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, May crude oil settled up 63 cents, or 1 percent, at $62.91 per barrel, the priciest settlement since Dec. 20's $63.72.

The contract hit an intraday high of $63.30, the highest since prices hit $63.59 on Dec. 21.

Oil prices rose on fears that supplies would be disrupted as international tensions mounted over Iran's nuclear program and its detention of British sailors and marines since Friday.

The rise in oil benefited Exxon Mobil, which ended up 0.65 percent, or 49 cents, at $75.47 on the NYSE.

For the second straight month, sales of new U.S. homes fell below even the most bearish estimates, according to the government data. The 3.9 percent drop in February brought the sales rate to its lowest in nearly seven years and came amid concerns about turmoil in the subprime mortgage lending sector.

KB Home shares dropped 1.8 percent, or 87 cents, to $45.99, while shares of Toll Brothers, another home builder, dropped 1.8 percent, or 53 cents, to $28.85, both on the NYSE. The Dow Jones Home Construction index ended off 1.7 percent.

Trading on the NYSE was moderate, with about 1.47 billion shares changing hands, below last year's estimated daily average of 1.84 billion. On Nasdaq, about 1.80 billion shares traded, also below last year's daily average of 2.02 billion.

Declining stocks outnumbered advancers by a ratio of about 9 to 8 on the NYSE and by about 7 to 6 on Nasdaq.

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