(Corrects paragraph 1 to remove reference to Discovery Inc being a part of the consumer discretionary sector)
* Consumer confidence rises more than expected in Feb
* Homebuilding hits more than two-year low in December
* Fed’s Powell says to stay “patient” on rate hikes
* Home Depot falls after sales miss estimates
* Caterpillar drops on double downgrade from UBS
* Indexes: Dow and S&P flat, Nasdaq off 0.14 pct
By Shreyashi Sanyal
Feb 26 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were little changed in choppy trading on Tuesday, as gains in technology sector were offset by losses in shares of consumer discretionary companies including Home Depot.
Investors also assessed a mixed set of economic data that was released earlier in the day.
The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index rose more than expected in February, while a report from the Commerce Department showed U.S. homebuilding tumbled to a more than two-year low in December.
Home Depot Inc’s lower-than-expected quarterly sales further underscored slowdown in the sector. The home improvement retailer’s shares fell 1.8 percent, dragging the S&P 500 consumer discretionary index down 0.18 percent.
The U.S. economy will grow at a solid though slower pace in 2019 and the central bank will remain “patient” in deciding whether to further raise interest rates, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said at a hearing before the U.S. Senate Banking Committee.
“He is saying sort of what we have been reading: conflicting signals. If you have a positive consumer you should have a positive economy and that may be reinforced by the confidence number that assuaged a lot of investor concerns,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Cresset Capital Management in Chicago.
Seven of the 11 major S&P sectors were lower with consumer discretionary stocks weighing the most.
Among other drags was Caterpillar Inc, which fell 2.4 percent after brokerage UBS double downgraded the stock.
The technology sector eked out a 0.15 percent gain as Microsoft Corp rose 1 percent.
At 13:02 p.m. ET the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 3.43 points, or 0.01 percent, at 26,088.52, the S&P 500 was down 0.93 points, or 0.03 percent, at 2,795.18 and the Nasdaq Composite was down 10.81 points, or 0.14 percent, at 7,543.65.
U.S. stocks have been bolstered in recent weeks by trade optimism and dovish signals from the Fed, with the benchmark S&P index about 5 percent away from its record closing high in September.
Healthcare stocks fell 0.21 percent as a U.S. Senate hearing on drug-price, where top executives from some of the largest drug companies are expected to get grilled on the high cost of prescription drugs, progressed.
AutoZone Inc climbed 5.0 percent after the auto parts retailer posted better-than-expected quarterly same-store sales.
Discovery Inc fell 6.9 percent after the Animal Planet owner missed quarterly profit expectations on significant decrease in revenue from its education business.
Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 1.24-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and for a 1.54-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.
The S&P index recorded 12 new 52-week highs and one new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 35 new highs and 17 new lows. (Reporting by Shreyashi Sanyal and Medha Singh in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Sinead Carew in New York; Editing by Anil D’Silva)