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U.S. stocks fizzle as Wal-Mart falls and China slumps

The U.S. stock market shuffled to a slight loss in a lazy day of summer trading Tuesday.

Wal-Mart's shares slid after the retailer cut its profit forecast for the year, while renewed concerns over the strength of China's economy weighed on companies that depend on customers there.

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But the broader market looked aimless. The major indexes headed lower at the opening of trading, turned higher just before lunchtime, then slowly lost ground throughout the afternoon.

"We're in the summer doldrums," said Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Wells Capital Management. "Most people are staying cool on the lake somewhere."

Another reason for the markets' recent drift, Paulsen said, is that the news hasn't been all that surprising. "People know about China's problems, they know about falling commodity prices," he said. "They've digested a lot of the news that's out there already."

The Standard & Poor's 500 index slipped 5.52 points, or 0.3 percent, to close at 2,096.92. The benchmark for most mutual funds has lost just 7 points this month.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 33.84 points, or 0.2 percent, to end at 17,511.34, and the Nasdaq composite sank 33.35 points, or 0.6 percent, to 5,059.35.

In other trading, Wal-Mart fell 3 percent after warning that its annual profit will likely fall short of previous estimates, partly because of a strong dollar. The world's largest retailer also reported a drop in quarterly earnings as it spent more on wages and overhauling U.S. stores. Shares slid $2.43 to $69.48.

Other retailers fared better. TJX, the company behind T.J. Maxx, reported rising earnings and sales and raised its estimate for annual profit. The news shot its stock up $5.17, or 7 percent, to $76.78, the biggest gain in the S&P 500.

Overseas, China's main Shanghai stock index took another plunge, losing 6 percent. It was the index's largest one-day drop since an 8 percent dive on July 27 and happened even though Beijing banned major shareholders from selling stocks.

"All the news out of China recently has done nothing to restore confidence in its financial markets," said David Madden, market analyst at IG, "and the ripple effect can be felt in Europe."

Major European markets closed with slight losses. France's CAC-40 slipped 0.3 percent, and Britain's FTSE 100 fell 0.4 percent. Germany's DAX lost 0.2 percent. Worries over China, a key customer for German-made machinery, chemicals and other goods, have helped knock the DAX down 3.5 percent so far this month.

Back in the U.S., Lennar, D.R. Horton and other companies in the housing market jumped following news that builders started work on single-family homes at the fastest pace since 2007.

Government bond prices dipped, nudging the yield on the 10-year Treasury note up to 2.19 percent.

Precious and industrial metals settled broadly lower. Gold slipped $1.50 to $1,117.10 an ounce, while silver sank 51 cents to $14.79 an ounce. Copper lost 4 cents to $2.30 a pound.

The price of oil inched above its recent six-year low, though analysts expect the supply glut that has pushed prices lower to persist. U.S. crude rose 75 cents to close at $42.62 in New York. Brent crude for October delivery, an international benchmark, rose 7 cents to close at $48.81 in London.

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In other futures trading on the NYMEX:

— Wholesale gasoline fell 0.7 cent to close at $1.647 a gallon.

— Heating oil rose 0.4 cent to close at $1.559 a gallon.

— Natural gas fell 2.4 cents to close at $2.704 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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