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Listless stocks end day mostly lower

Trader Jonathan Niles, right, gestures his wishes on

Trader Jonathan Niles, right, gestures his wishes on May 7, 2015, on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Stocks have been on a roller coaster since, rising modestly in early trading on Wednesday, May 13, 2015. Credit: AP / Richard Drew

Weak U.S. retail sales data helped set the stage Wednesday for a listless day of trading. Coming off a two-day losing streak, the major stock indexes spent much of the day drifting between small gains and losses before ending mostly lower.

At the close on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average was off nearly 7.7 points, about 0.04 percent, at 18,060.5. The Standard & Poor's 500 index gave up less than a point to 2,098.5. Only the Nasdaq composite gained, adding 5.5 points, about 0.1 percent, to close at 4,981.7.

Even the U.S. benchmark crude oil price, which had been up most of the day, dropped 68 cents $60.07 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Technology stocks were among the biggest gainers, sending the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite slightly higher. The Dow Jones industrial average and Standard & Poor's 500 index notched their third straight loss.

In addition to corporate deals and earnings news, traders had their eye on the Commerce Department's latest monthly snapshot of retail sales. The report, a bellwether for consumer spending, showed retail sales were essentially flat in April, falling short of Wall Street's forecasts. All told, retail sales have risen just 0.9 percent over the past 12 months.

"The retail sales numbers were really crucial in terms of assessing whether or not the rebound from the first quarter was gaining momentum," said analyst Quincy Krosby, market strategist for Prudential Financial. "It leaves a lingering concern as to whether or not there's something more at work keeping the economy from rebounding."

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