The S&P 500 dipped in a late decline on Friday as Wal-Mart dropped following a report of a weak start to February sales, though the index just barely extended its streak of weekly gains to seven.
Equities were little changed for much of the session, with investors finding few reasons to make big bets following an extended rally on Wall Street, but stocks turned lower in afternoon action.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc dropped 2.1 percent to $69.30 after Bloomberg News reported a weak start to February sales, citing internal company e-mails. The stock was the biggest decliner on the Dow, while the S&P retail index fell 0.5 percent.
"When a retailer of this size comes out with this kind of lousy news, the whole market can fall off, especially on a Friday afternoon," said Mike Shea, trader at Direct Access Partners in New York. "However, I'm not worried that this is indicative of any larger macro issue with retail."
Equities have struggled for direction recently, with major indexes moving only slightly in the past several sessions. The S&P didn't end a session with a move greater than 0.2 percent at all this week.
The benchmark index, up 6.6 percent so far this year, is facing strong technical resistance near the 1,525 level. But investors, expecting the index to advance further in the quarter, have held back from locking in profits.
"There's no news that suggests the strong underpinning for stocks isn't appropriate. We may have gotten ahead of ourselves, but there's also an absence of bad news," said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia.
Many investors are starting to look ahead to a debate in Washington over sequestration, automatic across-the-board spending cuts put in place as part of a larger congressional budget fight. The cuts are due to kick in March 1 unless lawmakers agree to an alternative.
"This had been far enough out to not yet become an impediment for stocks, but it will start to move into the forefront and cause people to take a bit of a jaundiced eye towards the market," said Luschini, who helps oversee about $54 billion in