NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stock indexes drifted Tuesday, a day after the market hit its latest record high. Major markets in Europe rallied after a European Central Bank official said the bank would step up its stimulus program.
KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 was up one point, less than 0.1 percent, to 2,129, as of 2:59 p.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 29 points, or 0.2 percent, to 18,328, while the Nasdaq composite slipped four points, less than 0.1 percent, to 5,074.
QUIET RUN: The stock market has gained more than 2 percent this month, setting record highs along the way. "But it hasn't felt like it," said Hank Smith, chief investment officer at Haverford Trust. "The market pulls back slightly one day, then moves ahead. It has been a grind."
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 helped lift shares in D.R. Horton, PulteGroup and other builders. "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 $3.21, or 4 percent, to $76.70.
POW: Take-Two Interactive, the company behind the "Grand Theft Auto" video games, surged 16 percent after posting earnings that trounced analysts' estimates. The company's stock jumped $3.82 to $28.02.
EUROPE: Major indexes in Europe closed with solid gains. Germany's DAX surged 2.2 percent, while France's CAC 40 picked up 2.1 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.4 percent.
TO THE RESCUE: The rally in Europe came after an ECB official said that the central bank would step up its bond-buying program in May and June to avoid slow trading in the summer months. The ECB's effort tends to support stock and bond markets while weakening the euro.
In another development, Greece's finance minister said he expects his government will reach an agreement with its 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 $2.20, or 3.7 percent, to $57.23 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
METALS: In other commodity markets, precious and industrial metals took a hard fall. Gold dropped $20.90 to settle at $1,206.70 an ounce, and silver sank 66 cents to $17.07 an ounce. Copper lost 7 cents to $2.84 a pound.
BONDS & DOLLARS: U.S. government bond prices fell, pushing the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note up to 2.27 percent from 2.24 percent late Monday. The euro lost strength against the dollar, sliding to $1.1157 from $1.1303. The dollar rose to 120.53 yen from 120.01 yen.