- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

NEW YORK (AP) - Investors unimpressed with better-than-expected reports on housing and inflation Tuesday sent stocks mostly lower in early trading.

The Commerce Department said new home construction rose unexpectedly to an annual rate of 583,000 in February from a revised 477,000 in January. Economists expected construction to drop to a pace of around 450,000 units, according to Thomson Reuters.

Building permit applications, a key measure of future activity, also rose. Applications increased 3 percent to an annual rate of 547,000. Economists were expecting permit applications to fall to a rate of 500,000.

A recovery in the housing market is widely seen as a key to helping end the ongoing recession.

Separately, the Labor Department said wholesale prices rose 0.1 percent in February after rising 0.8 percent in January. Economists predicted the producer price index would rise 0.4 percent during the month.

The government said core inflation, which excludes energy and food, edged up 0.2 percent in February after rising 0.4 percent in January.

In morning trading, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 28.75, or 0.40 percent, to 7,188.22. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 2.77, or 0.37 percent, to 751.12, while tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index rose 3.45, or 0.25 percent, to 1,407.47.

The market snapped a streak of four straight increases on Monday as a rally waned in the afternoon.

Alcoa Inc. was the latest Dow component to lower its dividend in an effort to conserve cash amid the ongoing recession. The aluminum maker lowered its dividend on Monday after the market closed. Alcoa cut the dividend 82 percent to 3 cents and said it plans to sell stock and debt to help reduce annual costs by more than $2.4 billion.

Alcoa fell 60 cents, or 9.8 percent, to $5.52.

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