* Core U.S. retail sales rise 0.5 percent in April
* Yum Brands falls as monthly Chinese sales drop
* Indexes: Dow down 0.2 pct, S&P flat, Nasdaq up 0.1 pct
By Caroline Valetkevitch
NEW YORK, May 13 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were little changed on Monday as investors stepped back following last week's new highs, but stronger-than-expected retail sales data limited declined.
The S&P 500 has jumped more than 14 percent so far this year, a rally that has repeatedly taken it to record intraday and closing highs without sustained declines. While the long-term trend is still viewed as positive, many analysts said the momentum could wane in the absence of positive catalysts.
Retail sales rose 0.1 percent in April, better than the 0.3 percent drop that had been expected, and returning to growth following a decline in March. Excluding autos, gasoline and building materials, core sales rose 0.5 percent. Retail sales account for about 30 percent of U.S. consumer spending.
There is a debate playing out in the market over whether positive economic data can help the market rise further, or whether it will spell the end of the Federal Reserve's monetary stimulus, which could derail the rally, said Joseph Tanious, global market strategist at J.P. Morgan Funds.
"You're seeing a little bit of back and forth, you're not seeing a great deal of conviction. You add on top of that the fact that we've had this rally year-to-date and investors are a bit hesitant to continue putting more and more money into the market because everyone's waiting for that pullback, if and when it will ever come."
Among the day's decliners, Yum Brands Inc fell 2.6 percent to $68.54. After the market closed on Friday, the fast food chain operator posted a steep decline in Chinese April sales.
The Dow Jones industrial average was down 29.99 points, or 0.20 percent, at 15,088.50. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was unchanged at 1,633.70. The Nasdaq Composite Index was up 2.27 points, or 0.07 percent, at 3,438.86.
The S&P 500 managed its third straight weekly gain last week, reaching a record high on Friday.
Other data showed business inventories were unchanged in March for a second straight month versus expectations of 0.3 percent rise, suggesting restocking could help second-quarter economic growth.
Earnings have been mostly better than expected. With 90 percent of the S&P 500 having reported, 67.2 percent of companies have topped earnings expectations, according to Thomson Reuters data, an amount that is even with the average over the past four quarters. Only 46.9 percent have beaten revenue expectations, under the 52 percent average over the past four quarters.