* April consumer spending up; May consumer confidence slips
* Apple weighs on S&P; Boeing, Disney drag on Dow
* Celator jumps over 70 pct after agreeing to be acquired
* Dow down 0.5 pct, S&P down 0.21 pct, Nasdaq up 0.09 pct (Updates to early afternoon)
By Yashaswini Swamynathan
May 31 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were lower in early afternoon trading on Tuesday following a drop in consumer stocks, but the three major indexes were on track to end higher for May, as investors mulled over economic data for clues regarding the timing of a rate hike.
Stronger-than-expected April consumer spending data on Tuesday bolstered Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s stance on Friday that a rate hike in the coming months would likely be appropriate given an improvement in the economy.
However, the impact of the strong spending data was somewhat muted after a Conference Board report showed that the consumer confidence index slipped to 92.6 this month from 94.7 in April.
Seven of the 10 major S&P sectors were lower, with the consumer staples index’s 0.57 percent drop leading the decliners.
Investors now await the crucial U.S. jobs data on Friday. The Fed meets next on June 14-15.
“I think this is a classic wait-and-see the data kind of week,” said Philip Blancato, chief executive officer of Ladenburg Thalmann in New York.
“So if the (jobs) data comes in as strong as I think, then you could be seeing a pretty significant pump to the expectations for the Fed to be able raise rates in June.”
At 12:47 p.m. ET (1647 GMT) the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 88.79 points, or 0.5 percent, at 17,784.43.
The S&P 500 was down 4.33 points, or 0.21 percent, at 2,094.73.
The Nasdaq Composite was up 4.59 points, or 0.09 percent, at 4,938.09.
All three indexes were set to end higher for the month, with Nasdaq set to record the biggest gain, while the Dow would barely eke out a gain at current levels.
Apple’s 0.6 percent fall to $99.76 was the biggest drag on the S&P and the Nasdaq, while Boeing’s fall of 1.9 percent pulled down the Dow.
Coca-Cola’s 0.8 percent drop was the biggest drag on the consumer staples index. Consumer heavyweights Home Depot and McDonald’s were off almost 1 percent.
Disney, another Dow component, was down 1.3 percent. The studio’s latest release, “Alice Through the Looking Glass”, received poor reviews.
Celator Pharma surged 71 percent to $29.99 after agreeing to be bought by Jazz Pharma for about $1.5 billion. Jazz Pharma was down 0.3 percent at $151.55. Celator was the most traded stock on the Nasdaq.
Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,631 to 1,326. On the Nasdaq, 1,570 issues rose and 1,174 fell.
The S&P 500 index showed 24 new 52-week highs and no new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 67 new highs and eight new lows. (Reporting by Yashaswini Swamynathan in Bengaluru; Editing by Savio D’Souza)