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Close mixed after drop in housing outlook

Earlier, tame inflation data sent stocks soaring.

NEW YORK - Wall Street gave up a huge advance and closed mixed yesterday after an unimpressive snapshot of the housing market unsettled investors. The Dow Jones industrials, which surpassed 13,400 early in the session, slipped back, but still eked out a record close.

Investors who initially bought enthusiastically after a tame reading on inflation decided to cash in some of their gains after the National Association of Homebuilders said its housing index dropped to 30 from 33 in April, indicating a deteriorating housing outlook.

The stock market followed a months-long pattern of rising on upbeat economic data only to give back gains on the latest report of a decline in housing. The day's movement also followed the recent pattern of blue-chip stocks' performing better than their smaller counterparts.

"We've got a real dichotomy going on here," said Stephen Massocca, president of Pacific Growth Equities L.L.C. "Big corporate America, the staid and stodgy companies, are doing well. They're going up today. Stocks that are riskier, stocks that are smaller, stocks in the emerging-market vein or technology vein, those are being sold."

The Dow had surged more than 130 points by midday trading, breezing past 13,400 after the inflation data raised hopes that the Federal Reserve might cut interest rates later this year. The Labor Department said prices paid by consumers rose less than expected in April, and indicated that inflation might be easing as the economy continues to cool. The Consumer Price Index rose 0.4 percent after rising 0.6 percent in March, while core prices - which exclude food and energy - rose 0.2 percent after a 0.1 percent gain.

The Dow rose 37.06, or 0.28 percent, to 13,383.84, after rising to a new trading high of 13,481.60. The modest climb nudged the blue-chip index to its 22d record close this year.

Broader indexes slipped. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 1.96, or 0.13 percent, to 1,501.19.

The technology-dominated Nasdaq composite index fell 21.15, or 0.83 percent, to 2,525.29.

"I think you've got certainly a slower economy, and companies and people aren't all that keen to spend on new technology," said Scott Wren, senior equity strategist at A.G. Edwards Inc. "There's also a lot of competition in the market, so the Nasdaq is likely to lag a little."

Since the Dow broke through 12,000 for the first time in October, it has become almost routine for the blue-chip index to set new records. The overall market advance has also lifted the S&P 500 near its record close of 1,527.46, reached in the spring of 2000. However, the Nasdaq still remains well off its closing high of 5,048.62, also reached during the peak of the dot-com boom; the index was overinflated by investors rushing to buy any high-tech stock.

Investors have been driven by optimism that the Fed is done with its campaign of rate increases and that it will soon start lowering rates. Still, when new data remind them of the fragility of the housing markets, they tend to retrench as they did yesterday.

Bond prices finished lower after the mixed data. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note rose to 4.71 percent from 4.69 percent late Monday. The dollar fell against other major currencies, while gold prices advanced.