Wall Street eased off five-year highs as investors were looking for more evidence that corporate earnings can justify continued optimism.

"The earnings numbers at this point really have to come through and validate where the market is," Mark Freeman, who oversees about US$14 billion as chief investment officer at Westwood Holdings Group in Dallas, told Bloomberg News. "The market wants to see the numbers if you will."

Shares of Caterpillar gained, last up 1.6 per cent, after the company's earnings topped expectations.

Economic data provided mixed signals today.


US durable goods orders climbed 4.6 per cent in December, surpassing expectations for an advance of 1.8 per cent. Pending home sales, however, posted a surprise drop, sliding 4.3 per cent last month, though the National Association of Realtors blamed the decline on a shortage of supply.

"The supply limitation appears to be the main factor holding back contract signings in the past month," Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said in a statement. "Still, contract activity has risen for 20 straight months on a year-over-year basis. Buyer interest remains solid."

Investors are eying Wednesday's gross domestic product report. Analysts polled by Reuters forecast the US economy grew at a 1.1 per cent annual rate in the fourth quarter, down from a 3.1 per cent rate in the previous three months.

Last week's 12 per cent slide in Apple shares drew buyers, pushing the stock up today 2.9 per cent. Not everyone is seeing the upside, however.

"I think there is more downside in Apple if you did get a broad market pullback," Richard Ross, Auerbach Grayson's global technical strategist, told Reuters. "I'd be patient unless you're a trader. It might not be the most attractive entry point."

In afternoon trading in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average edged 0.08 per cent lower, while the Standard & Poor's 500 Index slipped 0.12 per cent. The Nasdaq Composite Index gained 0.31 per cent, reflecting Apple's bounce.

In Europe, the Stoxx 600 Index finished the day with a 0.1 per cent decline from the previous close. Stocks in London and Paris rose, up 0.2 per cent and nearly 0.1 per cent respectively, while Frankfurt fell, down 0.3 per cent.

The European Union is considering a one-year delay to the deadline for lenders to disclose whether they meet a key debt ratio, Bloomberg reported, citing three people familiar with the discussions. EU nations may seek to push the start date for mandatory disclosure of this so-called leverage ratio from January 1, 2015, to January 1, 2016.