Stocks trade mixed following rebound in home sales

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Stocks fluctuated Tuesday as Wall Street got some upbeat news on housing and earnings, but also contended with losses from several big companies.

The National Association of Realtors said buyers stepped in to snap up properties at steep discounts in December, especially in the South and Midwest. Its seasonally adjusted index of pending sales for preowned homes rose 6.3 percent to 87.7 in the final month of the year from an upwardly revised November reading of 82.5. The news is welcome on Wall Street where investors are looking for any signs that the housing industry slide is slowing.

The drugmaker Merck & Co. posted a profit for the fourth quarter, topping analysts' expectations despite a decline in sales. The homebuilder D.R. Horton Inc. reported a loss for its latest quarter that was narrower than analysts anticipated thanks to cost cuts. Results from drugmaker Schering Plough also topped estimates.

Not all earnings were stronger than expected, however. Cell phone maker Motorola lost $3.6 billion. Analysts had been forecasting break-even results.

Financial stocks were the worst performers Tuesday. PNC Financial Services Group Inc., one of the nation's largest banks, said it swung to a loss during the fourth quarter amid charges tied to its recent acquisition of National City Corp. Even excluding the National City-related charges, PNC's results failed to meet analysts' expectations. The Pittsburgh-based bank also said it would cut 5,800 jobs following the purchase.

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