US stock indexes hover near all-time highs in choppy trading

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U.S. stock indexes were mixed in afternoon trading Tuesday, hovering near their all-time highs and within striking distance of matching Wall Street's longest winning streak of the year.

Investors continue to closely watch the bond market, with even minute changes in bond yields causing stocks to fluctuate. They are also working through economic data that showed Americans cut back on spending last month.

The S&P 500 was up 0.1% as of 3:37 p.m. Eastern time after wobbling between small gains and losses most of the day. The benchmark index is coming off a five-day winning streak. A sixth-day of gains for the index would match its longest winning streak so far this year.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 84 points, or 0.3%, to 32,869, pulled lower by industrial companies and banks as bond yields and oil prices fell. The technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite rose 0.3%.

The big technology names that rose sharply in 2020 were once again on the rise. Apple was up 1.5%, Google's parent company was up 1.7% and Facebook rose 2.6%. Tech stocks have moved in tandem with the bond market, so as bond yields ticked lower on Tuesday, it moved technology stocks in the opposite direction.

Americans spent less last month, partly due to bad weather in parts of the country that kept shoppers away from stores, and partly due to their December and January stimulus payments running out. Retail sales fell a seasonally adjusted 3% in February from the month before, the U.S. Commerce Department said Tuesday. February's drop followed soaring sales in January as people spent $600 stimulus checks sent at the end of last year. In fact, the Commerce Department revised its January number upwards to 7.6% from its previously reported rise of 5.3%.

Meanwhile severe winter weather pushed industrial production down a sharp 2.2% in February, reflecting a big decline in factory output.

“We’re still in the midst of getting back to a more normal environment,” said Jason Pride, chief investment officer of private wealth at Glenmede. “Given the lumpiness of government stimulus payments, we're going to see numbers jumping around.”

Investors are betting big that this economic malaise will dissipate as spring arrives for most of the country and more Americans get vaccinated. Further, President Joe Biden's administration started sending out $1,400 stimulus checks to individuals last weekend.

Some investors fear the stimulus could translate into inflation down the road, however, which has caused investors to sell bonds. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury inched up to 1.61% from 1.60% late Monday. It moved above that level last week. Bond prices fall as yields rise.

European shares were higher despite news that AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine, which was being used heavily in Europe and Asia, had reports blood clots after usage. The vaccine's usage is suspended in Europe.

Damian J. Troise And Alex Veiga, The Associated Press