NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Stocks were narrowly mixed by late morning Tuesday as crude oil fell below $58 a barrel, retail earnings came in mixed, and the European Central Bank promised increased bond buying over the next two months.
The S&P 500 fell 0.03% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.04%. The Nasdaq fell 0.11%.
The energy sector was under pressure as oil prices declined. Crude was lower as the U.S. dollar spiked on the promise of increased quantitative easing in Europe and as the domestic housing recovery picked up steam. West Texas Intermediate crude fell 2.7% to $57.81 a barrel.
Construction on new U.S. homes spiked 20.2% in April to a rate of 1.14 million, its fastest pace since late 2007. Economists had expected starts to increase to 1.03 million after a revised 944,000 increase in March.
"April housing starts and permits data came in considerably stronger than expected, offering some crucial counterbalance to generally weaker data flow over the past few weeks," said TD Securities' Gennadiy Goldberg. "The stronger starts and permits data suggests that some real gauges of economic activity may finally be starting to accelerate during the spring."
European markets were higher after European Central Bank executive board member Benoit Coeure said the body would increase purchases under its quantitative-easing program in May and June before an expected period of low liquidity in July and August. The central bank currently has bond purchases set at 60 billion euros a month.