Small gains for stocks; S&P 500 shy of record

The stock market closed slightly higher Wednesday as investors responded to an increase in new home sales and earnings gains at major retailers. Indexes wavered between small gains and losses for much of the session.

The S&P 500 index edged up a fraction to close at 1,845, three points below the record high close it set six weeks ago.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 18 to 16,198. The Nasdaq climbed 4 to 4,292.

Lennar rose 4 percent and PulteGroup rose 3 percent after the government reported sales of new homes increased last month at the fastest pace in more than five years.

The Commerce Department said sales of new homes increased 9.6 percent in January to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 468,000. It came as a surprise to economists who had been forecasting a sales drop in January, in part because of a belief that activity would be held back by bad winter storms in many parts of the country.

Lowe's climbed 5 percent after the home improvement retailer reported higher earnings.

Data-breach costs take big toll on Target profit

Target Corp. said Wednesday that its profit in the fourth quarter fell 46 percent on a revenue decline of 5.3 percent as a security breach scared off customers worried about their private data. Target earned $520 million for the three months that ended Feb. 1.

While Target said sales have been recovering since the breach was disclosed in mid-December, the company expects business to be muted for some time.

The results come more than two months after Target disclosed that personal credit card data from millions of its customers was stolen by hackers who targeted credit card terminals in its stores.

CEO Gregg Steinhafel said the retailer has been updating shoppers on its investigation, offering free credit card monitoring to any customer shopping at a Target store and working on equipping its locations with more secure technology.

Dollar Tree's 4Q profit falls as sales go lower

Dollar Tree said Wednesday that its fourth-quarter net income fell nearly 7 percent as severe weather and a shorter holiday selling period hurt the discount retailer's sales.

Dollar Tree operates more than 4,990 stores in Canada and the U.S., including the Charleston area.

Airbus boasting higher 2013 profit, demand

European jetmaker Airbus Group said Wednesday that record demand for its civilian jetliners from airlines around the world drove higher sales and profits last year.

Boeing Co.'s rival, known until this year as EADS, said net profit rose 22 percent to $2 billion in 2013.

The company, which competes with Boeing in the multi-billion-dollar market for large civilian aircraft, forecast jet deliveries to remain about the same level this year as last year when it sold 626 aircraft.

Airbus also announced plans to ramp up production of its single-aisle jets to 46 a month by 2016, from 42 now. The A320 single-aisle family of jets competes with Boeing's 737, and has seen high demand.

Airbus has received over 820 orders for the wide-body A350. The A350 jet is an intended rival to Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, which is made in North Charleston and the Seattle area.

Staff and wire reports