Stocks struggle higher despite weak housing news

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By Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks edged higher Tuesday, overcoming earlier losses from weak reports on consumer confidence and home prices.

Home Depot Inc. rose 2.7 percent, the most of the 30 large companies in the Dow Jones industrial average. The retailer said it would buy $1 billion of its own stock with cash from selling bonds.

Stocks started lower after a report showed that home prices fell in 19 of the 20 large U.S. cities tracked by the S&P/Case-Shiller index. Washington was the only city in which prices rose. Prices have fallen 3 percent in the past year.

Meanwhile rising gas prices helped drag down consumer confidence in March. The Conference Board said its confidence index dropped more than expected to 63.4 from 72 in February. The fall comes after five straight months of gains. A reading of 90 signals a strong economy.

The Conference Board says expectations about inflation rose dramatically, and expectations about income gains soured.

Evidence of higher gas prices hitting household spending also showed up Monday in February's report from the Commerce Department. Consumer spending rose, but most of the increase was used to cover rising gas prices.

Rising oil prices have pushed gasoline prices up 25 cents in the past month. The national average for a gallon of gas hit $3.58 Monday. That's the highest price for this time of year.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 29 points, or 0.2 percent, to 12,225. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 1 point to 1,311. The Nasdaq rose 12, or 0.4 percent, to 2,743.

Lennar Corp. fell 2 percent on news that housing prices dropped in most major cities even after the homebuilder reported a surprise profit for the latest quarter.

General Electric Co. fell 0.6 percent after announcing plans to buy 90 percent of Converteam, a France-based electrical equipment maker.