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US markets end slightly lower after Powell's Senate testimony

The US markets ended slightly lower on Tuesday after weaving in and out of positive territory all session as Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell delivered his semiannual monetary policy report to Congress, telling lawmakers the US economy remains healthy but warning about potential headwinds. Powell noted in prepared remarks before the Senate Banking Committee that the Fed has seen some crosscurrents and conflicting signals regarding current conditions and the economic outlook over the past few months. The Fed Chief specifically pointed to volatility in the financial markets toward the end of 2018, calling financial conditions less supportive of growth than they were earlier last year. Powell also cited slowing economic growth in foreign countries, particularly China and Europe, as well was uncertainty about Brexit and ongoing trade talks between the US and China.

On the economic front, a government shutdown-delayed report released by the Commerce Department showed a much steeper than expected drop in US housing starts in the month of December. The report said housing starts plunged by 11.2% to an annual rate of 1.078 million in December from the revised November estimate of 1.214 million. Street had expected housing starts to dip by 0.5% to a rate of 1.250 million from the 1.256 million originally reported for the previous month. With the much bigger than expected decrease, housing starts plummeted to their lowest annual rate since hitting 1.064 million in September of 2016. Single-family housing starts tumbled by 6.7 percent to a rate of 758,000, while multi-family housing starts nosedived by 20.4% to a rate of 320,000. Meanwhile, consumer confidence in the US rebounded in February following three consecutive monthly decreases, according to a report released by the Conference Board. The Conference Board said its consumer confidence index jumped to 131.4 in February after falling to 121.7 in January. Street had expected the index to rise to 125.0.

Dow Jones Industrial Average declined 33.97 points or 0.13 percent to 26057.98, Nasdaq lost 5.16 points or 0.07 percent to 7549.30 and S&P 500 was down by 2.21 points or 0.08 percent to 2793.90.

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