NEW YORK: Stocks ended flat on Tuesday after fluctuating between small gains and losses in a light-volume session, as investors took a breather following a 5 percent rally last week.
The S&P 500 turned positive for the year on Friday, with improving economic data boosting equities. Gains were amplified by better-than-expected data on consumer confidence, which hit an eight-month high in December, as Americans grew more upbeat about the labor market and their financial situations.
But after a strong rally and with trading volume light, investors were reluctant to draw many conclusions from the move.
"This is a tough week to trade on technicals or fundamentals mostly because the larger players are off the desk," said Joseph Cusick, senior market analyst at OptionsXpress Holdings Inc in Chicago.
About 3.59 billion shares exchanged hands on the New York Stock Exchange, NYSE Amex and Nasdaq, sharply below the year's daily average of about 7.9 billion shares.
For the year, the Dow is up 6.2 percent and the Nasdaq is down 1 percent. The S&P's performance is turning out to be the flattest in more than 40 years. The index is up less than 1 percent, its smallest move in either direction since 1970.
Doug Roberts, chief investment strategist at Channel Capital Research.com in Shrewsbury, New Jersey, said stocks were likely to drift higher into the end of the year even if gains were slight.
"We'll probably have a slight drift upwards, but there's not a lot of volume," he said. "In the absence of any bad news, we could see a drift up over the next four days."
"Now that we are back, market makers are raising volatility, putting premiums into the VIX cash. January futures are in at around $25.50. We are seeing the holiday effect," said Jamie Tyrrell at Group 1 Trading in Chicago.
U.S. single-family home prices fell slightly more than expected in October, according to S&P/Case-Shiller data, coming after better-than-expected data on the sector last week. - Reuters
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