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Nasdaq sets another record high on mixed day for stocks

The Nasdaq composite index notched its fourth record-high close in a row Tuesday, eking out a modest gain on a day when the other major U.S. stock indexes barely budged.

After wavering between small gains and losses for much of the day, the Standard & Poor's 500 index closed unchanged, while the Dow Jones industrial average posted a slight loss. More stocks rose than fell on the New York Stock Exchange.

Consumer-focused companies, banks and health care stocks were among the biggest gainers. Real estate companies lagged the most. Energy stocks also fell following a drop in crude oil prices.

Encouraging reports on small business confidence and job openings helped keep stocks in the green early in the day. But by midafternoon the indexes began to waver. 

"I do think the market stays kind of quiet until it really hits earnings season," said David Chalupnik, head of equities for Nuveen Asset Management. "The market will really start to take its direction when earnings season starts in full, and that's Friday."

The Nasdaq composite increased 20 points, or 0.4 percent, to 5,551.82. The index has closed higher the past six days in a row. The S&P 500 ended unchanged at 2,268.90. The Dow slipped 31.85 points, or 0.2 percent, to 19,855.53.

While the busiest stretch of the next corporate earnings season doesn't begin until Friday, several companies reported outlooks or preliminary results Tuesday that pleased investors.

Illumina jumped 16.6 percent after it reported better-than-anticipated fourth quarter sales. The company also launched a new genetic sequencing system called NovaSeq. The stock led the gainers in the S&P 500, adding $23.50 to $165.04.

Alaska Air Group rose 5.2 percent after the airline, which bought Virgin America in December, reported strong monthly results. The stock gained $4.53 to $92.

Zimmer Biomet added 6.2 percent after the medical device maker projected better-than-expected fourth-quarter sales. The stock rose $6.67 to $113.67.

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