Wall St steady as shopping stats flat

US stocks erased losses to end little changed yesterday after a Greek government source said the conservative party leader was expected to deliver a letter of commitment to the country’s international lenders.

And US retail sales fell short of forrecasts, rising 0.4 per centin January.

A sign of Greece’s commitment to the tough austerity measures demanded by Eurozone leaders was a catalyst for buyers to jump into the stock market late in the session.

Eurozone finance ministers are due to hold a telephone conference call today about a €130bn bailout to avert a chaotic Greek default.

Late-day moves by stocks are often exacerbated by dealers who are hedging positions.

“There has just been no volume for the last week or so, so you are kind of able to push stocks around a little bit more” said Sam Ginzburg, head of capital markets at First New York.

Bank shares, which have been the most affected by developments out of Greece, cut some of their losses.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 4.24 points, or 0.03 per cent, to 12,878.28. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index dropped 1.27 points, or 0.09 per cent, to 1,350.50. The Nasdaq Composite Index edged up 0.44 point, or 0.02 per cent, to 2,931.83.

Materials and financials were the worst performing sectors after rising more than 10 per cent for the year.

The S&P materials index lost 1.3 per cent as Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold fell 3.8 per cent to $42.96, and the S&P financial index slipped 1.1 per cent with Citigroup off 2.4 per cent to $32.08.

Volume was light with about 6.78bn shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, NYSE Amex and Nasdaq, shy of the daily average of 6.96bn.

The S&P retail index gained 0.3 per cent after hitting an intraday high of 570.33, the highest level on record for the index.

Auto supplier BorgWarner added 0.7 per cent to $79.41 after posting a fourth-quarter profit that beat Wall Street expectations on a 16 per cent sales increase.

According to Thomson Reuters data yesterday morning, of the 361 companies in the S&P 500 that have posted results, 63 per cent have topped expectations, tracking below recent quarters through this stage in earnings season.

Micron Technology shares rose 6.2 per cent to $8.34 after positive comments from analysts at JP Morgan.