U.S. stocks trade mixed as correction pondered

U.S. stocks traded mixed Thursday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average still managing to maintain a winning streak now in an eighth day, as investors fretted about chances of a correction amid benign economic data.

“People are waiting for that correction that just doesn’t seem to happen,” said Chip Cobb, senior vice president of Bryn Mawr Trust Management. Read David Callaway’s column on correction in the cards .

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After climbing to 17-month highs early on, the Dow industrials (^DJINews) was lately up 30.68 points, or 0.3%, at 10,764.35, with 15 of its 30 components trading higher, with gains led by Boeing Co. (BANews) , up 1.7%, and chemical giant DuPont (DDNews) , up 1.5%.

The S&P 500 Index shed 2.2 points, or 0.2%, to 1,164.01, with energy weighing the most heavily. Health-care stocks were among those rising as President Barack Obama and top Democrats touted billions in savings expected from the House health-care bill. Read more about the House’s health-care bill .

The Nasdaq Composite Index (COMPNews) fell about half a point to 2,388.49.

“This is just a very long recovery and businesses have gotten very good about being more efficient with less people,” said Cobb of the troubled labor market, who noted the positive but minor trend to the downside in the latest report from the Labor Department, which said its count of those filing for unemployment benefits fell by 5,000 to 457,000 last week.

Read part two of one family’s plight in another troubled sector, housing .

Consumer prices held unchanged in February, with declining energy costs offsetting price hikes in medical care and food. See more about the consumer-price index .

The tentative stance of investors comes as many market experts play a waiting game of sorts, along with the Federal Reserve, which on Tuesday opted to keep its benchmark rate for overnight borrowing between banks at historic lows. Read The Fed .

“If you look at inflation as a whole, it’s still well in check. We’re all waiting for inflation to pick up, we just don’t know when it will happen. We’re all waiting for interest rates to go up, but we don’t know when that will happen,” commented Cobb.

The dollar’s rise on Thursday proved part of the stock market’s undoing, as crude futures fell 73 cents to end at $82.20 a barrel as the commodity became more costly for holders of foreign currencies. Read Futures Movers .

The dollar fell against the Japanese yen but gained against the euro, with the dollar index (DXYNews) up 0.6% at 80.233. See Currencies .

Low-voltage trade

For every two stocks on the rise, three fell on the New York Stock Exchange, where composite volume topped 3.3 billion shares, with just under an hour of trade to go.

“One reason we don’t see a huge rise in the market going forward is the volume isn’t there,” said Paul Nolte, managing director at Dearborn Partners.

Noting trading volume has been heavier when stocks are falling, Nolte believes should equities start to correct more than the 5% to 10% already seen, “we could see everyone rush for the door at the same time.”

On Thursday, economic reports did little to sway investors one way or the other.

The Conference Board‘s index of leading economic indicators climbed 0.1% in February for an 11th consecutive monthly rise, with the private research group predicting conditions will improve modestly in the near term. Read more .

Manufacturing activity in the Philadelphia region improved for a seventh consecutive month, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

“The market needs to take a breather, but when you take a look at the underlying data that was out today, it’s not bad, but it’s not good enough to charge higher either,” according to Nolte.

In corporate news, FedEx Corp. (FDXNews) said its profit more than doubled in its third quarter, with the global shipper hiking its 2010 forecast.

Shares of FedEx were up 2.9%. See story detailing overnight-delivery profits .

Nike Inc. (NKENews) stock also jumped, recently up 4.9%, after the athletic-shoe maker reported quarterly results that beat Wall Street expectations. Read about results that highlighted strong demand

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