May 19, 2020 / 3:26 PM / 11 days ago

US STOCKS-S&P 500 steady after mixed retail earnings

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* Walmart surges on strong Q1 results

* Advance Auto Parts rises on Q2 same-stores sales potential

* Home Depot drops after Q1 results miss estimates

* U.S. housing starts post record decline

* Indexes mixed: Dow dips 0.26%, S&P flat, Nasdaq up 0.56% (Adds quote, details; updates prices)

By Medha Singh and Ambar Warrick

May 19 (Reuters) - The S&P 500 was trading flat on Tuesday, handing back some gains from a strong rally in the previous session, as investors digested a mixed set of quarterly results from retailers including Home Depot and Walmart.

Home improvement chain Home Depot fell 1.4% as it missed quarterly profit estimates due to higher costs, while department store operator Kohl’s Corp slumped 8.4% after reporting a bigger-than-expected loss.

Walmart Inc, on the other hand, gained 0.7% after posting a jump in first-quarter U.S. comparable sales as online sales soared due to stockpiling of essentials during the coronavirus-related lockdown.

Trillions of dollars in stimulus has helped the S&P 500 rebound more than 34% from its March lows. Although it is now just about 13% below its record high, the pace of the rally has slowed in May owing to uncertainty over the outbreak and rising U.S.-China tensions.

“Volatility is going to be with us for some time. There’s a leveling off process where people accept the new normal, or they just abandon hope,” said George Young, portfolio manager of the Villere Balanced Fund in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The benchmark index jumped more than 3% on Monday, boosted by promising early stage data for a potential COVID-19 vaccine and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell’s pledge to support the economy as needed until the current crisis has passed.

Powell, in his testimony to the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday, said the central bank was continuing to consider ways to accommodate additional borrowers, and that Congress should consider anything to keep people out of insolvency.

“By far the biggest focus for markets are variables attached to medical news, (followed by) actions from central banks and fiscal policymakers,” said Tim Shaler, chief economist for iTrustCapital in Newport Beach, California.

At 11:06 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 64.58 points, or 0.26%, at 24,532.79, the S&P 500 was up 0.71 points, or 0.02%, at 2,954.62. The Nasdaq Composite was up 51.95 points, or 0.56%, at 9,286.77.

Gains in technology focused companies including Apple Inc , Amazon.com and Intel Corp helped the Nasdaq stay in the positive territory.

Seven of the 11 major S&P sectors were trading lower, led by real estate and energy stocks. Technology and consumer discretionary posted the biggest percentage gains.

Advance Auto Parts climbed 5.3% after the company said same-store sales improved significantly at the start of second quarter.

U.S. homebuilding dropped by the most on record in April and permits for future construction tumbled, underlining fears of sharp economic contraction in the second quarter.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 1.09-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and for a 1.02-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded eight new 52-week highs and no new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 44 new highs and four new lows. (Reporting by Medha Singh and Ambar Warrick in Bengaluru; Editing by Patrick Graham and Arun Koyyur)

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