NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Stocks vacillated and finished marginally higher Tuesday on a light trading day featuring improving data as investors sought to book profits as quarter-end nears.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished up 12 points, or 0.1%, to 10,907. The S&P 500 closed up a half point to 1173, and the Nasdaq added 6 points, or 0.3%, to 2411.

"Basically, the housing prices showed the lowest decline in three years, which is a sign that prices might be stabilizing, and we had a nice leap in consumer confidence, which investors are hoping will translate into higher consumer spending," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Avalon Partners.

Earlier, the Case-Shiller 20-city home price index reported an annual decline of 0.7%, and consumer confidence , as measured by the Conference Board, soared to a better-than-expected reading of 52.5 in March.

"A burst of confidence is always good for the market, and we're approaching the end of the quarter, so there's some window-dressing going on," Cardillo said earlier Tuesday, adding that pushing past psychologically significant levels like Dow 11,000 could cause a shift in sentiment. "There could be a tug-of-war between the bulls and the bears."

The Economy

Macroeconomic news offered a read on the health of the housing market and the consumer.

Standard & Poor's Case-Shiller 20-city index for January showed prices dipped 0.7% year over year. From December to January, prices rose 0.3% on a seasonally adjusted basis. The SPDR S&P Homebuilders ETF ( XHB) traded 0.1% higher at $17.03.

The Conference Board said its consumer confidence index jumped to 52.5 in March, surpassing economists' expectations for a reading of 49. The level also exceeded February's reading of 46.4, which was upwardly revised from 46. The Retail HOLDRs ETF ( RTH) improved nearly 0.1% at $101.42.

Overseas, the British economy grew 0.4% in the fourth quarter, according to the third and most robust estimate of economic activity from London's Office of National Statistics. Previous estimates gauged growth at 0.1% and 0.3%.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng lifted 0.7%, and Japan's Nikkei gained 1%. The FTSE in London lost 0.7%, and the DAX in Frankfurt shed 0.2%.

Elsewhere, President Barack Obama signed the final provisions of his health care reform package into law today. But the focus was also on elements of the bill which reformed the nation's student loan program. The Associated Press reports the law will remove banks' function as intermediary in the loan process, which the administration estimates could result in over $60 billion in savings over a decade to be put towards more grants.

Company News

Weak fourth-quarter sales pushed shares of women's plus-size retailer Charming Shoppes ( CHRS) down 15.5% even as the company reported a narrower loss.

Medical and industrial products manufacturer Danaher ( DHR) saw shares rise 4.5%, to $80.88 after it lifted its first-quarter earnings guidance.

Shares of Apple ( AAPL) and Verizon ( VZ) advanced 1.5% and 2.6%, respectively, on reports that Apple may be developing an iPhone for Verizon and that a new iPhone may be in the works.

Shares of 3M ( MMM) led advancers on the Dow, followed by Verizon, after a Morgan Stanley analyst said Danaher's improved forecast should heighten expectations for 3M, according to Business Week. Shares climbed 3.6% higher to $84.28.

AT&T ( T), which could lose exclusivity with the iPhone on the Verizon report, was sliding more than any other on the blue-chip average. Travelers ( TRV) and Bank of America ( BAC) were following close behind.

As a sector, financial stocks were declining further than most others, as the KBW Bank index dropped 0.8%.

Trading levels were light with the Dow showing volume of 148.8 million, compared with an average of 200 million.

Blockbuster's ( BBI) stock dived 10.4% after it reported having 45 days to regain compliance with the New York Stock Exchange on its average market capitalization. The video rental and retail company also said it will be looking for shareholders to vote on a reverse stock split at its May 26 meeting.

Google ( GOOG) said its Chinese mobile services are being partially blocked, according to Wall Street Journal reports. Google hasn't determined whether this is related to a recent decision to stop censoring its search engine in China or whether it is merely a routine Internet block.

Shares of LDK Solar ( LDK) lost 7.8% after it reported a fourth-quarter loss that missed analysts' estimates.

Microsemi ( MSCC) agreed to acquire White Electronic Designs ( WEDC) for roughly $100 million. Microsemi's stock gained 63 cents, or 3.8%, to $17.25 while White Electronic shares soared $1.53 higher, gaining nearly 30%, to $6.99.

SEC disclosures say Kraft ( KFT) CEO Irene Rosenfeld saw her total compensation rise over $7.5 million in 2009.

Commodities and the Dollar

Crude oil for May delivery settled 22 cents higher at $82.37 a barrel ahead of the American Petroleum Institute's weekly inventory report. The industry group said crude stocks rose by a lighter-than-expected 421,000 barrels for the week ended March 26. Analysts polled by Platts anticipated a build of 2.65 million barrels in crude oil inventories.

Elsewhere in commodity markets, the April gold contract shed $5.80 to settle at $1,104.50 an ounce.

The dollar was trading higher against a basket of currencies, with the dollar index up by 0.2%.


The benchmark 10-year Treasury weakened 1/32, boosting the yield to 3.864%.

The two-year note fell 1/32, raising the yield to 1.059%. The 30-year bond gained 10/32, dropping the yield to 4.753%.

--Written by Melinda Peer and Sung Moss in New York.