* Consumer spending dips; inflation below Fed’s target, but rising
* Chicago PMI handily beats forecast
* Big Lots shares jump after results
* Dow off 0.1 pct; S&P 500 off 0.1 pct; Nasdaq down 0.5 pct (Updates to mid-afternoon, changes byline)
By Chuck Mikolajczak
NEW YORK, May 30 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks hovered near the unchanged mark on Friday as mixed economic data gave investors little incentive to buy stocks on the last trading day of May.
The S&P 500 opened at an intraday record high, but further gains may be difficult to come by until next week, when payrolls data and a meeting at the European Central Bank will be the major catalysts.
U.S. consumer spending fell for the first time in a year in April after two months of solid gains, but the decline probably will not change expectations for a rebound in growth this quarter. An inflation gauge rose at its quickest pace since November 2012 while business activity in the U.S. Midwest rose in May at its strongest pace since October 2013.
“Very mixed signals, which prevents bears from getting aggressive and keeps bulls in place. It’s effectively forestalled any real significant directional shift to what we’ve seen thus far,” said Peter Kenny, chief executive officer of Clearpool Group in New York.
“This is an unusual time and place in the market, in that we are in a real holding pattern, and the markets are looking for more in the way of confirmation in the way of economic data that suggests our economic activity is accelerating.”
Equity investors kept an eye on U.S. Treasury yields. The 10-year note’s yield rose after the strong Chicago PMI data, but remained below 2.5 percent, near an 11-month low hit during Thursday’s session.
The low yields helped to bolster dividend-paying stocks. High-yielding utilities ranked as the best-performing S&P sector on Friday, up 0.6 percent for the day and up just over 2 percent for the week.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 14.42 points or 0.09 percent, to 16,684.32. The S&P 500 slipped 1.09 points or 0.06 percent, to 1,918.94. The Nasdaq Composite dropped 19.87 points or 0.47 percent, to 4,228.08.
For the week, both the Dow and the S&P 500 were poised for their second straight weekly advance, while the Nasdaq was set to post its third straight climb.
The Dow industrials and the S&P 500 were both on track for their fourth consecutive month of gains. The Nasdaq was on pace for its first positive month in three.
Big Lots shares jumped 12.4 percent to $42.15 after the closeout retailer posted better-than-expected results and higher sales.
In contrast, shares of apparel retailers Express and Guess slumped a day after the companies forecast disappointing profits for the current quarter amid a sluggish revival in consumer spending. Express shares fell 9.3 percent to $12.36. Guess’ stock slid 4.5 percent to $25.68. (Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Jan Paschal)