NEW YORK — Wall Street paused after a huge two-session rally Tuesday but still managed to hold on to almost all its gains even after disappointing reports on consumer sentiment and the housing market.

Stocks pulled past profit-taking that was due in part to the Conference Board's report that consumer confidence sank to a five-year low in March. The index has been weakening since July, and is closely watched to determine the future of consumer spending, perhaps the most critical part of the economy.

Meanwhile, the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller home price index indicated that U.S. home prices fell 11.4 percent in January, the steepest drop since data was first collected in 1987. The latest decline means prices have been growing more slowly or dropping for 19 consecutive months.

Volume was light as many investors held off any big moves while the market sought a direction. Trading continues to be fragile amid worries about the economy and credit markets.

The quiet session followed a two-day advance that sent the Dow Jones industrial average up nearly 450 points. Stocks had charged higher in the days following the Federal Reserve's decision to aid investment banks and orchestrate a buyout deal for a near-collapsed Bear Stearns Cos., but a pause, and some selling, was to be expected after such a huge advance.

"There is a lot of cash on the sidelines right now, and they're really waiting to see if there's another shoe to drop," said Todd Leone, managing director of equity trading at Cowen & Co. "Bear Stearns has taken a lot of fear out of the market, and the Fed is doing what it can for the credit crunch, but I think there's still uncertainty."

According to preliminary calculations, the Dow fell 16.04, or 0.13 percent, to 12,532.60.

The Dow was actually the laggard in Tuesday's session — the broader Standard & Poor's 500 and Nasdaq composite indexes had more robust gains. The S&P rose 3.11, or 0.23 percent, to 1,352.99; the Nasdaq added 14.30, or 0.61 percent, to 2,341.05.

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