Stocks Mixed After Weak Retail Report

NEW YORK (AP) -- U.S. stocks are mixed Wednesday morning as investors look for safety following a drop in retail sales last month. It was the first decline in more than a year, and investors are buying high-dividend stocks, government bonds and gold and selling bank stocks. The Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates later in the day.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 index added 1 point, or 0.1 percent, to 2,441 as of 10 a.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones industrial average picked up 9 points to 21,337. The Nasdaq composite added 9 points, or 0.1 percent, to 6,229.

Small-company stocks fell more than the rest of the market. The Russell 2000 index sank 5 points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,421. That suggests investors are worried about the economy, which could have an outsize effect on smaller, domestically-focused companies.

About half of the stocks on the New York Stock Exchange rose and half fell. The S&P 500, Dow and Russell all closed at record highs Tuesday. The Nasdaq isn't far from the record it set last week, but it was hit particularly hard by the steep sell-off in technology companies Friday and Monday.

RETAIL SALES: The Commerce Department said people spent less money at gas stations, department stores and electronics retailers last month. The result was a surprise to analysts, who expected sales to grow. Electronics retailer Best Buy lost 48 cents to $57.39 and video game seller GameStop gave up 50 cents, or 2.3 percent, to $21.48. Department store chain Macy's slid 23 cents, or 1 percent, to $22.03 and Kohl's dropped 94 cents, or 2.5 percent, to $37.10.

Elsewhere, the Labor Department said consumer prices slipped, mostly thanks to lower energy prices. That showed how little inflation there has been in the economy, a continued concern for Federal Reserve policymakers.

FED WATCH: The Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates Wednesday afternoon. That would be the third increase since December. But Wall Street is attuned to signs of weaker economic growth, and the combination of sluggish growth and high interest rates, which slow the economy down, may have worried investors.

REACTION: Bond prices jumped and yields turned sharply lower. Concerned about weak growth, investors bought bonds and high-yield stocks. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.13 percent from 2.21 percent. Utilities and real estate investment trusts climbed.

Senior housing and health care real estate investment trust Welltower gained $1.12, or 1.5 percent, to $75.26. Ventas, which operates senior housing, Ventas picked up 94 cents, or 1.4 percent, to $69.20. Wireless communication tower company Crown Castle International gained 89 cents to $102.05. NextEra Energy, the parent of Florida Power & Light, jumped $1.42, or 1 percent, to $141.37 and power company Southern Co. rose 42 cents to $51.48.

Banks fell. The drop in bond yields sent interest rates lower, which reduces the profits banks can make from mortgages and other loans. Citizens Financial dropped 73 cents, or 2 percent, to $36.15 and Lincoln National lost $1.40, or 2 percent, to $67.15.

CURRENCY: The dollar slid to 109.28 yen from 109.96 yen. The euro jumped to $1.1275 from $1.1212.

BLOCK PARTY: Tax preparer H&R Block posted a bigger profit than analysts expected as well as slightly stronger sales. Its shares climbed $2.78, or 10.3 percent, to $29.77.

COMMODITIES: Benchmark U.S. crude fell 29 cents to $46.17 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, shed 27 cents to $48.45 a barrel in London.

Gold climbed $10.90 to $1,279.50 an ounce and silver soared 44 cents, or 2.6 percent, to $17.21 an ounce.

OVERSEAS: Germany's DAX advanced 0.8 percent and the CAC-40 in France was up 0.3 percent. The British FTSE 100 rose 0.2 percent. Tokyo's Nikkei 225 retreated 0.1 percent and the Hang Seng Index in Hong Kong advanced 0.1 percent. In South Korea the Kospi retreated 0.1 percent.