Final Hour: Sentiment Blow From Retail Blues

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- A trickle of tepid retail results pulled stocks lower Tuesday, as markets range-trade in a vacuum of economic data or geo-political shocks.

The S&P 500 is up just 1.4% almost halfway through the year (yes, already) and it's searching for catalysts to push higher. Earnings and economic data are improving -- but will growth be strong enough to break the sideways slide?

At least one Federal Reserve official was bearish today: New York Fed Reserve president William Dudley noted persistent "over-optimism" about the growth outlook by Fed officials and others in recent years, pointing to business fixed investment and housing as two areas that continue to disappoint. "They need to kick in more forcefully for the economy to grow at an above trend rate for a sustained period," he said.

Maybe the action in Treasuries reflects a shrewd assessment of the economy, rather than pure bets on more stimulus. Even if the ECB does reach for its stimulus toolkit, U.S. markets have already enjoyed their sugar high and pundits are looking for something more substantial.

Meanwhile, small caps were diving with a vengeance, off nearly 2% amid risk-off mode. Another bellwether of appetite, action in new-media stocks was mixed: Facebook (FB) and Twitter (TWTR) were down while Netflix (NFLX) and Amazon  (AMZN) gained more than 1%. It's a stockpickers market all right -- who would have guessed that gain in Credit Suisse (CS) shares after guilt admission for facilitating U.S. tax evasion?

Tomorrow, the Fed gives their take on the economic outlook, though we all expected more taper in the absence of any disaster. Still, many investors will hold their collective breath until the expected rebound in Q2 GDP - one this supposed bull market badly needs to move higher.

-- By Jane Searle in New York 

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