NEW YORK – U.S. stocks fell, erasing early gains after the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index came within four points of a record as data showed an increase in retail sales and a drop in jobless claims.
Dollar General Corp. slipped 2.6 percent as it forecast first-quarter earnings below analyst estimates. Amazon.com Inc. climbed 2.6 percent as the world’s largest Internet retailer boosted the price of its Prime membership. Williams-Sonoma Inc. jumped 10 percent after the seller of cookware and home furnishings predicted sales this year will increase more than analysts project.
The S&P 500 fell 0.2 percent to 1,865.19 at 11:23 a.m. in New York. The equity benchmark index erased gains after approaching its closing record of 1,878.04 reached on March 7. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 41.20 points, or 0.3 percent, to 16,298.88. Trading in S&P 500 stocks was 19 percent below the 30-day average at this time of day.
“The markets are in the mode where we’re hitting record highs domestically and there are very few things to make the market move higher,” Randy Frederick, managing director of trading and derivatives at Charles Schwab Corp. which manages $2.2 trillion in client assets, said by phone. “A few points is nothing to be alarmed about and this week has been a consolidation week as it is.”
Americans ventured out to shop last month even as colder-than-normal temperatures and severe snowstorms blanketed parts of the U.S., showing the economic expansion is regaining momentum. The 0.3 percent advance in retail sales followed a 0.6 percent drop in January that was larger than initially reported, Commerce Department figures showed.
A separate report showed the number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level since the end of November, a sign of further improvement in the labor market. Jobless claims dropped by 9,000 to 315,000 in the week ended March 8, Labor Department data showed. The median forecast of 53 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a rise to 330,000.
The government’s monthly jobs report last week showed U.S. employers added more workers than estimated in February. The Federal Reserve is trying to determine how much recent economic data has been affected by weather.