Investors were giddy over home furnishing retailers -- or at least they were before disappointing housing data squelched hopes of an imminent stabilization in the housing market.

Shares of

Home Depot

(HD) - Get Report

and

Lowe's

(LOW) - Get Report

gave up gains after The Commerce Department said

construction of new homes and apartments fell 12.8% in April to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 458,000 units, its lowest mark on record in a half-century.

Analysts were eyeing Home Depot and Lowe's as bellweathers for the strength of the economy. Jim Cramer said on Monday during "Mad Money" that strong home improvement sales could trigger a turnaround not only in the housing sector, but also in retail and restaurants, and spread from there.

Earlier today Home Depot said earnings soared 44% in the first quarter. Lowe's posted a 22% drop in first-quarter earnings on Monday, but far surpassed analysts' expectations.

But Frank Blake, chief executive of Home Depot, warned that the housing market is still mixed. He said the only way to experience any real, sustainable improvement, is to first see a decrease in foreclosures, noting that foreclosure rates in California once again picked up in the first quarter.

As a result, Home Depot refrained from raising guidance. "Conservatism is admirable, and it is early in the year, but at the current stock level, investors may require a better outlook (company or macro) for the next sustained move upward," Christopher Horvers, analyst at J.P. Morgan, wrote in a note on Tuesday.

Shares of Home Depot dropped 5% to $24.70 in afternoon trading. Lowe's was up slightly 1.3% to $20.22, but down from earlier highs of $20.39.

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