New York - Wall Street stocks moved lower Friday in early trade following a mixed report on US housing starts as investors continued to demonstrate caution towards equities.

About 35 minutes into trade, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dipped 5.07 (0.03 percent) to 16,441.74.

The broad-based S&P 500 lost 1.56 (0.08 percent) at 1,869.29, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index dropped 10.62 (0.26

percent) to 4,058.67.

The Commerce Department said that overall housing starts rose 13.2 percent in April from March. However, most of the gains were in the often volatile multi-family units, while gains in the economically more important single-family home sector were weak.

Investors bid up J.C. Penney shares by 16.7 percent after the company reported a 6.2 percent gain in same-store sales in the first quarter to May 3, and said gross margins improved. The struggling retailer reported a $352 million loss on $2.8 billion in sales.

Retailer Nordstrom reported earnings of 72 cents per share in its first quarter, exceeding its forecast of 60-70 cents per share.

Credit Suisse upgraded the stock, while RBC Capital raised its price target.

Shares rose 11.7 percent.

Abbott Laboratories announced a $3.3 billion deal to buy Chilean generics manufacturer CFR Pharmaceuticals as it aims to build its presence in Latin America.

Abbott shares rose 0.5 percent.

Darden Restaurants announced it would sell its Red Lobster seafood chain for $2.1 billion to Golden Gate Capital in a move that will allow it to reduce debt and boost shareholder payouts.

Darden fell 3.8 percent.

World Wrestling Entertainment shares plunged 46.4 percent after analysts expressed doubts about the earnings potential of renewed broadcast deals with NBCUniversal and its new WWE Network.

Bond prices dipped.

The yield on the 10-year US Treasury rose to 2.52 percent from 2.50 percent Thursday, while the 30-year advanced to 3.35 percent from 3.34 percent.

Bond prices and yields move inversely. - Sapa-AFP