By Caroline Valetkevitch
NEW YORK -- The Dow and S&P 500 eased Thursday following declines in energy shares and a disappointing outlook from Walmart, while the Nasdaq hit another 15-year high as Priceline shares jumped.
Uncertainty over prospects of a debt deal with Greece added to investor caution. Germany rejected a Greek proposal for a six-month extension to its eurozone loan agreement, saying it fell short of conditions set out by the country's eurozone partners.
A drop in shares of Walmart Stores (WMT) weighed down the Dow after the company cut its sales outlook, citing the stronger dollar. Shares dropped 3.2 percent to $83.52. Walmart also said it would raise entry-level wages to $9 an hour.
Boosting the Nasdaq, which rose for a seventh straight session, Priceline Group (PCLN) shares rallied 8.5 percent to $1,218.05 on its results. The stock also was the S&P 500's largest daily percentage gainer.
%VIRTUAL-pullquote-The rally is broadening out, and many more sectors are being included now as strong performers.%The S&P energy index fell 0.8 percent while shares of Exxon Mobil (XOM) dropped 1.7 percent to $89.44 as oil prices slid a second day following another big weekly build in U.S. crude inventories.
The decline in energy prices has eroded the profits of oil companies, and many have cut 2015 spending plans. But S&P 500 fourth-quarter earnings overall have been better than expected.
"I think it's likely to stay strong. The rally is broadening out, and many more sectors are being included now as strong performers," said Bruce Zaro, chief technical strategist at Bolton Global Asset Management in Boston.
The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 44.08 points, or 0.24 percent, to 17,985.77, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) lost 2.23 points, or 0.11 percent, to 2,097.45 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 18.34 points, or 0.37 percent, to 4,924.70.
For the whole S&P 500, earnings for the quarter are up 6.5 percent from a year ago, above a Jan. 1 estimate for 4.2 percent growth, Thomson Reuters (TRI) data showed. The S&P 500 index is up 1.9 percent since the start of the year.
S&P utilities, down 1.1 percent, had the biggest decline among sectors, with shares of Scana (SCG) falling 1.9 percent to $58.27 following its results.
The biggest percentage decliner in the S&P 500 was Host Hotels & Resorts (HST), down 7.1 percent at $21.87, after a disappointing forecast.
About 6 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, below the 7.1 billion average for the month to date, according to BATS Global Markets.
NYSE declining issues outnumbered advancing ones 1,581 to 1,452, for a 1.09-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, 1,440 issues rose and 1,256 fell, a 1.15-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.
The S&P 500 posted 66 new 52-week highs and one new lows; the Nasdaq composite recorded 104 new highs and 22 new lows.
What to watch Friday:
These selected companies are scheduled to release quarterly financial statements:
Cabot Oil & Gas (COG)
Choice Hotels International (CHH)
Deere & Co. (DE)
Laboratory Corp. (LH)