* Fed to consider hikes on “meeting-by-meeting” basis - Yellen
* Home Depot helps lift Dow, S&P after earnings
* S&P/Case-Shiller edges higher in December
* Toll Brothers rises after results
* Indexes: Dow up 0.29 pct, S&P up 0.04 pct, Nasdaq down 0.17 pct (Adds market update, commentary)
By Sinead Carew
NEW YORK, Feb 24 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks advanced slightly on Tuesday, with the Dow and S&P 500 at intraday records, as investors attempted to interpret testimony by Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen.
As investors sought clues on the timing of the Fed’s first interest rate increase since 2006, Yellen told a congressional committee it is preparing to consider hikes “on a meeting by meeting basis,” in a subtle change of emphasis.
“You see so much conflicting data coming about, between the minutes and public statements that have been made,” said Dan Farley, regional investment strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management in Minneapolis.
“They are really trying to walk that fine line between not spooking the market and giving themselves the flexibility they need to be a little bit more data-dependent and figure out, really what does this mean?”
Some investors took a clearer reading of the comments.
“She painted a pretty upbeat picture of the U.S. economy and implied that would give her room to raise rates,” said Milton Ezrati, senior economist and market strategist at Lord Abbett in Jersey City, New Jersey.
“The Fed is not leaning against the wind, which is the typical thing. They are trying to get out of the box they made for themselves in dealing with the crisis. She is really eager to do this even if the economy is not that strong.”
The S&P/Case Shiller composite index of home prices in 20 metropolitan areas gained 4.5 percent in December above the 4.3 percent forecast and 4.3 percent in November.
Other data showed the U.S. services sector expanded in February at its fastest pace since October, according to a preliminary reading from financial data firm Markit. Separately, U.S. consumer confidence fell more than expected in February, according to the Conference Board.
Home Depot shares gained 4.3 percent, boosting the S&P 500 and the Dow. The home improvement retailer reported a better-than-expected quarterly same-store sales and announced an $18 billion share buyback program.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 52.53 points, or 0.29 percent, to 18,169.37, the S&P 500 gained 0.88 points, or 0.04 percent, to 2,110.54 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 8.38 points, or 0.17 percent, to 4,952.59.
JPMorgan Chase climbed 2.5 percent to $60.84 after the bank told investors it aims to save about $1.4 billion in annual expenses. It also forecast about 10 percent core loan growth in 2015.
Toll Brothers climbed 4.3 percent to $38.70, helping to lift the PHLX housing index by 1.2 percent. The largest U.S. luxury homebuilder reported a higher-than-expected quarterly profit and raised the low end of its full-year home delivery forecast.
Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 1,618 to 1,320, for a 1.23-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, 1,451 issues rose and 1,198 fell, a 1.21-to-1 ratio.
The S&P 500 was posting 62 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite was recording 108 new highs and 20 new lows. (Additional reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak and Daniel Bases. Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Nick Zieminski)