March 20, 2012 / 2:12 PM / 5 years ago

US STOCKS-Wall St opens lower after run-up

* Housing permits jump to highest level since Oct 2008

* Italian govt seeks deal with unions on labor laws

* Indexes off: Dow, S&P both 0.7 pct, Nasdaq 0.8 pct

By Chuck Mikolajczak

NEW YORK, March 20 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks fell at the open on Tuesday as equities paused after a 3-day winning streak for the S&P 500, which came within 10 percent of a historic closing high.

The benchmark S&P had risen in eight of the past nine sessions, hit its highest point since May 2008 and was 10 percent below the record close of 1,565.15 in October 2007.

The market has shown resilience of late, shrugging off sluggish starts and building upward momentum to finish higher.

Easing concerns about the euro zone debt crisis and improving domestic data have lifted the S&P index more than 11 percent for the year and over 27 percent from the October low.

U.S. Commerce Department data showed a steady improvement in the housing market, as permits for future construction jumped to their highest level since October 2008, although starts fell.

"It seems like a market that probably just needs to take a rest, but I wouldn't be surprised -- this is kind of the pattern -- either flat or negative futures, and we rally into the day. It's sort of remarkable," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank in Chicago.

"It is now a focus back on the fundamentals on the economy and those news items aren't quite as daunting, it's really just fine tuning."

Investors will monitor talks as Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti began a final push for a deal with unions to revamp labor laws aimed at creating jobs and underpinning wider reforms to aid the weak economy.

Adding to concern were signs of slowing in China's economy as Australian miners such as BHP Billiton signaled iron ore demand was weakening. U.S.-listed shares of BHP fell 3.3 percent to $72.99.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 92.22 points, or 0.70 percent, at 13,146.91. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was off 9.27 points, or 0.66 percent, at 1,400.48. The Nasdaq Composite Index dropped 24.40 points, or 0.79 percent, at 3,053.92.

Jewelry chain Tiffany and Co forecast higher fiscal-year results, helped by expansion in Asia and the Americas and sales that so far are in line with its projections. Shares jumped 7.6 percent to $74.

Earnings were also expected from contract manufacturer Jabil Circuit Inc, software maker Oracle Corp, computer contractor SAIC Inc.

Adobe Systems Inc lost 2.8 percent to $33.55 and was among the worst percentage decliners on the Nasdaq 100 . The maker of the Photoshop and Acrobat software late Monday reported quarterly revenue growth slowed, missing forecasts.

Bank of America Corp gained 2.6 percent to $9.78 after the company said it won't issue additional equity in a secondary offering, contrary to rumors that may have lowered its stock price during Monday trading.

Walt Disney Co shed 0.9 percent to $43.06 after the entertainment company said expects science-fiction movie "John Carter" to lose about $200 million, leading its studio unit to post an operating loss of $80 million to $120 million in the fiscal second quarter.

In contrast, Lions Gate Entertainment Corp hit an all-time high of $14.78 ahead of the release of its highly anticipated "Hunger Games" movie. It later eased to $14.63, off 2.6 percent.

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