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Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, July 31, 2012. (BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, July 31, 2012. (BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)

At midday: S&P 500 continues retreat from four-year high Add to ...

North American stocks were down in midday trading on Wednesday, just a day after the U.S. benchmark index reached a four-year high in intraday activity.

Shortly after noon, the S&P 500 was down 4 points or 0.3 per cent, to 1409. On Tuesday, it touched a high of 1426.68, its highest level since 2008, before retreating. The blue-chip Dow Jones industrial average was down 65 points or 0.5 per cent, to 13,139.

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In Europe, stocks also retreated. Germany’s DAX index fell 1 per cent and the U.K.’s FTSE 100 fell 1.4 per cent.

The moves come ahead of the much-anticipated minutes from the last monetary policy meeting of the U.S. Federal Reserve, due out later in the afternoon. Investors and economists will be looking for clues as to how serious the central bank is in contemplating another round of economic stimulus.

Earlier, the National Association of Realtors reported that existing U.S. home sales rose 2.3 per cent in July over the previous month. That missed expectations of a bigger bounce of 3.2 per cent, but didn’t hold back moves in U.S. homebuilding stocks.

Toll Brothers Inc. rose 3.8 per cent after the builder of luxury homes reported quarterly earnings of $61.6-million (U.S.) or 36 cents a share, up from 25 cents a share last year and ahead of expectations. PulteGroup Inc. rose 4.3 per cent.

In other corporate news, Dell Inc. fell 6.7 per cent after it cut its fiscal 2013 earnings forecast.

Overseas, Japan’s foreign ministry reported that shipments to China fell 12 per cent in July from last year, raising concerns about a slowing Asian economy. Japanese shipments to the European Union fell 25 per cent, marking the sharpest decline since October 2009.

Greece asked for an extension to meet its financial obligations in securing additional financial assistance, but Germany signalled that it was willing to discuss the request.

Within the S&P 500, the declines were broad, affecting all 10 subindexes. Industrials and materials were the worst hit, falling 0.8 per cent each. Financials fell 0.5 per cent.

Within Canada’s S&P/TSX composite index, commodity producers were the biggest laggards. Energy stocks fell 0.8 per cent and materials fell 0.6 per cent.

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