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Stocks Close Flat as Energy Undercuts Home Sales Data


NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- U.S. stocks settled mixed amid stronger-than-expected housing data and a pullback in the energy sector.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 1.4 points, or 0.01%, at 12,982. The S&P 500 rose 1.9 points, or 0.1%, at 1368. The Nasdaq gained 2.4 points, or 0.08%, at 2966. The energy sector was down 0.4% as oil retreated from the $110 mark.

Equities bounced off morning lows after pending home sales data from the National Association of Realtors approached a two-year high in January, with a climb of 2% last month. Sales were expected to have risen 1% in January, according to Thomson Reuters, following a 3.5% drop in December. The report said that the group is expecting price stabilization and possible price growth this year.

"Overall, the direction of the various revisions, along with the January estimate, point to a choppy, though steadily improving trend," said economists at Barclays Capital Research. "As pending home sales progress, existing home sales tend to follow with a month or two lag, which suggests the modest improvement in the housing market is likely to continue."

Business conditions in the Texas area improved at a faster pace, according to the Dallas Federal Reserve. The bank's business activity index rose to 17.8 in February after 15.3 in January and a contraction in December.

Earlier, stocks were falling after Group of 20 countries rebuffed calls to boost the eurozone's resources over the weekend. The G20 said Europe must ramp up money to fight the debt crisis before leading economies will provide more funds to the International Monetary Fund. The G20 is moving to create $2 trillion in resources -- with $1 trillion from Europe's temporary and permanent bailout funds and as much as $500 billion for the IMF from countries like Japan and China, adding to the current $385 billion in funds.

The effort to increase the region's firepower would be the G20's greatest since the countries put $1 trillion into Europe three years ago to fight the recession. This comes as Greece is on track to receive its second bailout from European creditors and amid ongoing concern for core economies like Italy and Spain. This afternoon, Germany passed a parliamentary vote on Greece's aid package.

Germany's DAX settled down 0.6% while London's FTSE fell 0.3% on Monday. Japan's Nikkei Average settled down 0.14% and Hong Kong's Hang Seng closed off 0.9%.

In corporate news, Lowe's (LOW), the home-improvement retailer, reported fourth-quarter profit of 29 cents a share on revenue of $11.63 billion compared with the average analyst expectation of earnings of 24 cents a share on revenue of $11.3 billion. Shares were up 0.7% to $27.34.

BP's (BP) federal trial over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill has been delayed for a week to allow more time for settlement talks. The delay was "for reasons of judicial efficiency and to allow the parties to make further progress in their settlement discussions," said U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, The Associated Press reported. Bloomberg said BP and plaintiffs suing over the oil spill are discussing a $14 billion settlement. Shares were 1.2% higher at $47.54.

Cheniere Energy Partners (CQP - Get Report) announced that private equity firm Blackstone (BX - Get Report) will be investing $2 billion in the company, which would allow it to fund the equity portion of the costs for developing, constructing and placing into service its Sabine Pass, La. natural gas liquefaction plant. As part of the deal, Blackstone will be buying newly issued Cheniere senior subordinated paid-in-kind units. Debt financing for the liquefaction project should be completed by the end of the first quarter. Construction is expected to begin in the first half of 2012. Shares of Cheniere surged 13.4% to $23.70.

HSBC (HBC), Europe's biggest bank by market value, said full-year profit rose 28%. HSBC posted 2011 net profit of $16.8 billion, up from $13.2 billion a year earlier. HSBC said China, India, Malaysia, Brazil and Argentina were the fastest-growing sources of revenue for the bank. Shares fell 3.6% to $43.95.

Roche, the Swiss drug giant, extended until March 23 its buyout offer for Illumina (ILMN), the maker of gene-mapping tools. Roche's hostile offer of $44.50 a share, or $5.7 billion, was set to expire on Feb. 24. Illumina shares were up 0.4% to $51.40.

AES (AES), the power company, reported fourth-quarter earnings of 23 cents a share on revenue of $4.27 billion, compared with the average analyst expectation of earnings of 22 cents a share on revenue of $3.46 billion. Shares fell 0.7% to $13.70.

April oil futures settled lower by $1.21 at $ 108.56 a barrel after breaking $109 a barrel in the previous week. "Oil is once again focusing on fears that the global economy may be slowing and concerns surround the ongoing European sovereign debt crisis," said Phil Flynn, senior energy analyst at PFGBest. "The G-20 said that Europe needed a viable financial firewall before any consideration can be made to boost resources for the IMF."

In other commodities, April gold futures settled down $1.50 to $1,774.90 an ounce. "Reluctance of G20 action continues to keep new buyers at bay-however some consolidation after a few weeks of up move is not negative," said George Gero, precious metals strategist with RBC Capital Markets. "The eurozone is concerned with Italy, Portugal, Spain, and economic recovery so most demand commodities are pausing."

The dollar index was up 0.2%. The benchmark 10-year Treasury was up 14/32, diluting the yield to 1.93%.

-- Written by Andrea Tse and Chao Deng in New York.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Andrea Tse.

>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/atwtse .

>To submit a news tip, send an email to: tips@thestreet.com.

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