Stocks Flat on Nucor, Alcoa News

Updated from 9:24 a.m. EDT

Stocks in New York kicked off St. Patrick's day slightly to the downside, after a dose of surprisingly positive housing data, but also daunting outlooks from key industrial stocks.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was dropping 42 points to 7174, while the S&P 500 was down 4 points at 749. The Nasdaq was on the upside, adding 1 points, to 1405.

First, the bad news: Early Tuesday, steelmaker Nucor ( NUE) dramatically lowered expectations for its first-quarter guidance, now expecting a loss of 55 cents to 65 cents a share, while analysts had pegged a profit 41 cents a share. "The economy has fallen off a cliff -- and there is no visibility as to the timing of the recovery," said Dan DiMicco, Nucor's CEO.

Dow component Alcoa ( AA) was also sliding in early trading after announcing late Monday that in order to deal with the dent in aluminum demand, it will cut its dividend, scale back 2010 spending, and issue $1.1 billion in stock and convertible notes.

Stocks ended a four-day winning streak on Monday, after AIG ( AIG) riled taxpayers, politicians and investors alike with disclosures that the clearly troubled company plans to pay out millions in bonuses, among other things.

But Tuesday offered news of a more comforting nature. A report from the Commerce Department showed that new-home construction and building permit applications both rose in February vs. expectations that those metrics would fall to new record lows.

Housing starts rose to 583,000 from 477,000 in January, the first rise since May of 2008. Building permits increased for the first time since June 2008, to 547,000, from 531,000 in January.

The producer price index, which measures wholesale prices, rose 0.1% in February, after an 0.4% increase in January. The core PPI rose 0.2%, just slightly more than expectations.

The Federal Reserve starts its two-day policy setting meeting today, and is expected to keep its key interest rate at a record low range.

In commodities, oil was down 22 cents, at $47.13, while gold fell $6.70 to $915.30.

Europe's largest oil company Royal Dutch Shell said Tuesday that its oil reserves were unchanged at the end of 2008 vs. 2007, marking the first year since 2004 that the company hasn't pumped more oil than it added to the reserves.

Stocks in Europe were largely lower, while stocks in Asia were mixed. The FTSE in London and DAX in Frankfurt were lower by more than 1% apiece. In Asia, Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.8%, but Japan's Nikkei added 3.2%.

In the bond market, longer-dated Treasuries were falling. The 10-year note was losing 16/32 to yield 3%, and the 30-year was off by 1-17/32, yielding 3.8%. The dollar was stronger against the yen, euro and pound.