Wall Street paused after a huge two-session rally Tuesday but still managed to hold on to almost all its gains, even after disappointing...

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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.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 16.04 to 12,532.60.

Microsoft, one of the 30 Dow stocks, slipped 3 cents to close at $29.14 a share. Boeing, also a Dow stock, fell 39 cents to $75.90.

The broader Standard & Poor’s 500 and Nasdaq composite indexes made modest gains. The S&P rose 3.11 to 1,352.99; the technology-focused Nasdaq added 14.30 to 2,341.05.

Stocks pulled past profit-taking that was caused, in part, by 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 figures were 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 remained uneasy amid uncertainty about the economy and credit markets. Still, the fact that the market didn’t suffer a huge pullback, which has been its pattern for months after a big gain, indicated that at least for now, Wall Street seems more capable of handling bad news.

Stocks had charged higher in the days after the Federal Reserve’s decision to aid investment banks and orchestrate a buyout deal for a near-collapsed Bear Stearns. The Dow shot up nearly 450 points in the previous two sessions.

“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. “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.”