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US: Nasdaq gains 7th day; Dow, S&P 500 slip with Wal-Mart


[NEW YORK] The Nasdaq rose for a seventh straight session on Thursday as Priceline shares jumped, while the Dow and S&P 500 eased following declines in energy shares and a disappointing outlook from Wal-Mart.

Uncertainty over prospects of a debt deal with Greece added to investor caution. Germany rejected a Greek proposal for a six-month extension to its euro zone loan agreement, saying it fell short of conditions set out by the country's euro zone partners.

Boosting the Nasdaq, which had its longest winning streak in a year, Priceline Group shares rallied 8.5 per cent to US$1,218.05 on its quarterly results. The stock also was the S&P 500's largest daily percentage gainer.

A drop in shares of Wal-Mart Stores Inc weighed down the Dow after the company cut its sales outlook, citing the stronger dollar. Shares dropped 3.2 per cent to US$83.52. Wal-Mart also said it would raise entry-level wages to US$9 an hour.

The S&P energy index fell 0.8 per cent while shares of Exxon Mobil dropped 1.7 per cent to US$89.44 as oil prices slid a second day following another big weekly build in US crude inventories.

The decline in energy prices has eroded the profits of oil companies, and many have cut 2015 spending plans. But S&P 500 fourth-quarter earnings overall have been better than expected, which has helped sentiment. "I think it's likely to stay strong. The rally is broadening out, and many more sectors are being included now as strong performers," said Bruce Zaro, chief technical strategist at Bolton Global Asset Management in Boston.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 44.08 points, or 0.24 per cent, to 17,985.77, the S&P 500 lost 2.23 points, or 0.11 per cent, to 2,097.45 and the Nasdaq Composite added 18.34 points, or 0.37 per cent, to 4,924.70.

For the whole S&P 500, earnings for the quarter are up 6.5 percent from a year ago, above a Jan 1 estimate for 4.2 per cent growth, Thomson Reuters data showed. The S&P 500 index is up 1.9 per cent since the start of the year.

S&P utilities, down 1.1 per cent, had the biggest decline among sectors. The biggest percentage decliner in the S&P 500 was Host Hotels & Resorts, down 7.1 per cent at US$21.87, after a disappointing forecast.

Shares of American Express were down 1.7 per cent at US$78.40 after a federal judge ruled it violated US antitrust law by prohibiting merchants from steering consumers to use lower-cost credit cards.

After the closing bell, shares of Intuit jumped 4.9 per cent to US$95.60 following its results.

About 6 billion shares changed hands on US exchanges, below the 7.1 billion average for the month to date, according to BATS Global Markets.

NYSE declining issues outnumbered advancing ones 1,581 to 1,452, for a 1.09-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, 1,440 issues rose and 1,256 fell, a 1.15-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.

The S&P 500 posted 66 new 52-week highs and one new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 104 new highs and 22 new lows.