U.S. stocks edged up slightly higher, after swinging back and forth in a narrow range, as investors preferred to remain on the sidelines.  After yesterday’s better-than-expected reports on housing and consumer confidence, investors looked for fresh signs to help restart a rally that has catapulted major indexes to multi-month highs. 

Yesterday, fifteen of the thirty DJIA components closed higher; 245 of the S&P500 closed up and 42 of the NASDAQ100 finished on higher ground.  Trading was subdued with NYSE volume of 1.05 billion well below last year’s average of 1.49 billion.  The DJIA gained 4 points to close virtually flat at 9543; the NASDAQ and S&P500 each recorded gains of 0.01%.  Declining issues beat those that advanced eight to seven.  Treasuries were mixed after the government successfully auctioned $39 billion in five-year notes.  The Treasury is scheduled to auction $28 billion of 7-year notes today.

Five of the S&P500 sectors recorded gains.  The consumer services sector, which advanced 1.2% yesterday, edged up 0.5% on improved expectations for the consumer segment due to better-than-projected housing numbers and confidence report.  Healthcare shares issues were off 0.2%.

Basic material and industrial shares each declined 0.7% on Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s comments regarding economic difficulties in that country, particularly domestic consumption.  The Chinese cabinet reportedly is assessing steps to control overcapacity in steel and cement production. US Steel (NYSE:X) and Nucor (NYSE:NUE) each dropped 2.4%. 

DJIA components 3M (NYSE:MMM) fell 1.7%, Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) was off 1.2%, and General Electric (NYSE:GE) declined 1.3%.  Housing news, nevertheless, continued to signal a leveling off in the sector, with DR Horton (NYSE:DHI) up 5.7%, Beazer Homes (NYSE:BZH) up 5.0%, and Lennar (NYSE:LEN) up 4.1%.  Hovnanian Enterprises (NYSE:HOV) rose 43 cents, or 9.4%, to $5

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