Poor building data halts Wall St gains

US stocks broke three days of gains yesterday following worrisome outlooks from two major software makers and a surprising drop in home construction last month.<br /><br />But stocks sharply cut the session&rsquo;s losses just before close as many investors pointed to a strong uptrend in equities that have pushed major indexes to 13-month highs in recent days. The S&amp;P 500 has ended down only three times in the last two weeks<br /><br />Business software maker <strong>Autodesk</strong> was cautious about the outlook for the current quarter, while sector peer <strong>Salesforce.com</strong> reported a slowdown in new business. The news was a setback to investors looking for signs of a pickup in demand.<br /><br />The government said housing starts declined to their lowest level in six months, weighed down by a sharp fall in construction activity for both single-family and multi-family dwellings, a sign the housing market is still under pressure. <br /><br />Henry Smith, chief investment officer at Haverford Trust Co in Philadelphia, said that despite these setbacks, the equity market was experiencing tailwinds from low interest rates, government stimulus spending and signs of economic recovery.<br /><br />&ldquo;We are of the continued belief that right now, the tailwinds propelling the market are still outweighing the headwinds,&rdquo; he said.<br /><br />The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 11.11 points, or 0.11 per cent, to 10,426.31. The Standard &amp; Poor&rsquo;s 500 Index dipped just 0.52 of a point, or 0.05 per cent, to finish at 1,109.80. The Nasdaq Composite Index lost 10.64 points, or 0.48 per cent, to end at 2,193.14.<br /><br />Autodesk shares slid 10.4 per cent to $24.20 and weighed on the Nasdaq, a day after the company, which licenses software to companies on a per-user basis, warned its recovery could be hindered by more job losses. Meanwhile, Salesforce fell 3.1 per cent to $63.61 on the New York Stock Exchange. <br /><br />&ldquo;Technology has been a strong area of the market, and those two results broke the momentum,&rdquo; said Nick Kalivas, vice president of financial research and senior equity index analyst at MF Global in Chicago.<br /><br />The Dow Jones US Home Construction index climbed 0.8 per cent, bolstered by a Citigroup upgrade of <strong>Pulte Homes</strong> to &ldquo;buy&rdquo; from &ldquo;hold.&rdquo; Pulte rose 4.6 per cent to $10.04. While the decline in new construction raised concerns about the recovery, it could bode well for removing remaining inventory from the market, something analysts say must happen for the housing sector to recover.<br />