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U.S. stocks switched between small gains and losses on Tuesday as investors assessed a batch of stronger-than-expected economic reports.

Ahead of the opening bell, data showing the first increase in inflation in four months pushed the dollar higher, and put pressure on stock futures. A jump in new-home sales briefly boosted confidence, as did a strong initial reading on manufacturing activity in March. Moves have been muted, however.

The S&P 500 (SPX) was flat at 2,105 with five of its 10 main sectors trading higher.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) added 12 points to 18,067. About two-thirds of the 30 components were trading higher.

The Nasdaq Composite (RIXF) outperformed other benchmarks, adding 17 points to 5,027.

The dollar (DXY) resumed its march higher after a brief pause on Monday, putting pressure on oil and gold prices.

Randy Frederick, managing director at the Schwab Center for Financial Research, said markets appear to be puzzled about economic indicators.

“The post-Fed rally we had indicates that expectations for the first rate hike have been pushed back to July or August. Between now and the next earnings season, there is not much to prompt investors to change their positions,” Frederick said.

Pointing at low levels of implied volatility measured by the CBOE volatility index, he said that institutional investors are not anticipating big downside moves. The CBOE Vix has been falling since it spiked in January and, at 13, is hovering around its lowest levels of this year.

Economic data: The U.S. consumer-price index climbed a seasonally adjusted 0.2% in February, as gas prices rebounded and the cost of food and shelter increased again, the Labor Department said Tuesday.

Higher inflation is one of the metrics that the Federal Reserve would like to see before committing to raising interest rates and an uptick in February’s CPI reminded investors that the first rate hike may come as soon as June.

New U.S. homes sold at an annual rate of 539,000 in February to mark the best month of sales in seven years, the government reported Tuesday. Separately, U.S. house prices rose a seasonally adjusted 0.3% in January, the Federal Housing Finance Agency said Tuesday.

The flash reading of the Markit manufacturing purchasing managers index unexpectedly rose in March to 55.3 from 55.1 in February, to mark the highest reading since October.

Speaking at CityWeek in London on Tuesday, St. Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard said that the Fed’s zero-rate interest policy is no longer appropriate and that a rate hike this summer wouldn’t strangle the U.S. economic recovery. However, he warned the reaction to the first rate hike may be ‘violent’, because of mismatch in expectations.

Fed’s Williams makes case for not delaying rate hike (

Stocks to Watch: Whiting Petroleum Corp.(WLL) shares plunged 20% after the oil and gas company announced a secondary stock offering.

McCormick & Co.(MKC) shares jumped after quarterly results that came in above expectations.

Chesapeake Energy Corp.(CHK) rose 3.6%. The company cut its outlook for 2015 capital expenditure ( due to continued weak commodity prices.

Shares of Freeport-McMoRan Inc.(FCX) slid 2.8% after the world’s largest copper producer slashed its quarterly dividend by 84% in response to the negative impact of lower commodity prices.

More on notable movers in Movers & Shakers column (

Other markets: European stocks inched higher on the upbeat news out of Germany.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index ( fell after the Chinese factory data, while Japan’s Nikkei broke a two-day winning streak with a 0.2% fall.