U.S. stocks slipped on Tuesday as a surprise drop in a gauge of consumer confidence offset signs of stabilization in housing and Walgreen Co's stronger-than-expected profit.

With the third quarter drawing to a close, trading was volatile.

Stocks started higher but then slipped as the Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index for September showed concerns about personal finances amid the worst job market in 26 years.

Even so, investors appeared reluctant to sell stocks indiscriminately, and major indexes seesawed between small losses and break-even for most of the session. A day earlier, the S&P 500 index staged a rebound that halted a 3-day losing streak.

We're not going see big gains when economic data disappoints, said Cleveland Rueckert, market analyst at Birinyi Associates Inc in Stamford, Connecticut. But there are a lot of people still waiting for an entry point. We're seeing general unwillingness to sell.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> dipped 20.02 points, or 0.20 percent, to 9,769.34. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> fell 1.09 points, or 0.10 percent, to 1,061.79. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> shed 3.66 points, or 0.17 percent, to 2,127.08.

Top drags included some of the stellar performers in Monday's runup, including 3M Co , off 1.4 percent to $73.96 and Cisco Systems Inc , down 1.4 percent at $23.27.

Apple Inc's shares declined 0.4 percent to $185.38.

But shares of Walgreen jumped 10.2 percent to $37.68 after the largest U.S. drugstore chain reported a quarterly profit that topped expectations.

The Dow Jones US Home Construction Index <.DJUSHB> gained 1.04 percent on an improved S&P/Case-Shiller home price index reading, suggesting the domestic housing market was stabilizing.

Pulte Homes Inc

rose 2.04 percent to $11.49, while Lennar Corp gained 1.7 percent to $14.91.

Shares of Moody's Corp and The McGraw-Hill Companies Inc jumped after Piper Jaffray analysts said there was a favorable operating backdrop for the rating agencies as debt issuance volume improved substantially in September on a year-over-year basis.

Moody's shares jumped 12.4 percent to $21.09 and McGraw-Hill, parent of Standard and Poor's, gained 7.4 percent to $26.13.

CIT Group Inc shares rose 17 percent to $1.96 on a report that hedge fund manager John Paulson was considering merging the troubled U.S. finance company with failed mortgage lender IndyMac Federal Bank .

Window dressing -- when fund managers sell laggards in favor of outperformers to spruce up portfolios -- tends to make quarter-end trading volatile.

The S&P 500, up more than 15 percent so far this quarter, is making a run for its best quarterly performance since the fourth quarter of 1998.

The benchmark index has rallied nearly 60 percent from the 12-year low of early March as investors bet on the recovery and prospects for a rebound in corporate profits.

(Editing by Kenneth Barry)