* Housing starts jump to 7.5-yr high
* Financials gain; energy shares down with oil prices
* Indexes: Dow up 0.1 pct, S&P flat, Nasdaq down 0.1 pct (Updates to mid-afternoon, adds comment)
By Noel Randewich
May 19 (Reuters) - The S&P 500 wavered on Tuesday afternoon as Wall Street digested U.S. housing data that some saw as hopeful for an economy struggling to grow.
U.S. housing starts jumped to their highest level in nearly 7-1/2 years in April and permits soared.
Some investors interpreted that as a promising sign that a slow economy may be gaining steam, instead of as a reason for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates sooner than expected.
“It continues to be this Goldilocks scenario of slow modest growth and low inflation,” said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer of Solaris Group in Bedford Hills, New York.
At 2:44 p.m., the Dow Jones industrial average rose 24.76 points, or 0.14 percent, to 18,323.64. Earlier it hit an all-time intraday high of 18,351.36.
The S&P 500 lost 0.36 points, or 0.02 percent, to 2,128.84 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 4.70 points, or 0.09 percent, to 5,073.74.
The S&P had closed at record highs on Friday and Monday after a stream of weak economic data suggested that Fed would wait to see more strength in the economy before raising rates.
The S&P is trading at 17.1 times forward earnings, compared with its 10-year median of 14.7, according to Thomson Reuters StarMine.
Five of the 10 major S&P 500 sectors were up, with financials up 0.6 percent. Wells Fargo was up 1.27 percent, contributing the biggest gains to the S&P.
The energy index was down 1.25 percent. Oil prices fell as the dollar strengthened and on evidence of ample supplies of Middle Eastern oil despite wars in northern Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
Wal-Mart’s shares were down 4.08 percent at $76.66 and were the biggest drag on the Dow and the S&P 500 after the company reported lower-than-expected U.S. same-store sales growth.
Take-Two Interactive rose 15 percent to $17.56 percent after its profit handily beat market estimates, helped by strong digital sales of “Grand Theft Auto V” and “NBA 2K15” titles.
Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,839 to 1,161, for a 1.58-to-1 ratio on the downside; on the Nasdaq, 1,529 issues fell and 1,202 advanced for a 1.27-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.
The S&P 500 was posting 43 new 52-week highs and 2 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite was recording 107 new highs and 41 new lows. (Additional reporting by Sweta Singh and Tanya Agrawal; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Nick Zieminski)