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Market Wrap: A Flat Day With Another S&P High

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A man plays a Laterna instrument in the streets of Athens
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By Chuck Mikolajczak and Rodrigo Campos

NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks were little changed in thin trading on Monday as the S&P 500 notched its latest record high, but gains were curbed when an early rally in energy prices lost momentum.

Equities have trended to the upside of late, buoyed by data showing an improving economy and the U.S. Federal Reserve's commitment to be "patient" about raising interest rates. After the S&P 500 gained nearly 6 percent over the prior eight sessions, it notched its 53rd record close of the year on Monday.

The S&P energy index advanced 0.3 percent, pulling back from a gain of more than 1 percent as Brent and U.S. crude oil turned lower. Brent settled down $1.57 at $57.88 and U.S. crude settled down $1.12 at $53.61 a barrel.

Good News for Retailers

In contrast to the fall in oil prices, consumer discretionary names were among the day's best performers, up 0.7 percent. General Motors (GM) rose 2.6 percent to $34.60. The S&P 500 retail sector rose 0.8 percent as Macy's (M) advanced 1.8 percent to $65.22, and Amazon.com (AMZN) was up 1 percent to $312.04.

"The nearer-term picture is, consumers are enjoying lower gas prices, it's almost as if it is an alleviation of taxes," said Andre Bakhos, managing director at Janlyn Capital in Bernardsville, New Jersey. "Someone is getting hurt in this while the consumer is benefiting, and at some point it could come back to bite the market and the economy."

The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 15.48 points, or 0.09 percent, to 18,038.23, the S&P 500 (^GPSC) gained 1.8 points, or 0.09 percent, to 2,090.57 and the Nasdaq Composite (^IXIC) added 0.05 points to 4,806.91.

A Quiet Week

The speed and scale of the rally could cap further upside, especially in the final trading week of the year, when many market participants are out on holiday and catalysts are limited. Volume is expected to remain light, which could exacerbate volatility. The stock market will be closed on Thursday for New Year's Day. About 4.78 billion shares traded on U.S. exchanges on Monday, well below the 7.18 billion average this month, according to BATS Global Markets.

Gilead Sciences (GILD) rose 3.7 percent to $97.30 as one of the S&P 500's biggest percentage gainers after Morgan Stanley upgraded the stock to "overweight" from "equal-weight." LiveDeal (LIVE) jumped 19.1 percent to $3.92 on volume of 13.6 million shares, to dwarf its 50-day average of about 455,000 shares, after the company reported 2014 results.

NYSE advancing issues outnumbered decliners 1,800 to 1,299, for a 1.39-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, 1,438 issues rose and 1,320 fell for a 1.09-to-1 ratio favoring advancers. The S&P 500 posted 68 new 52-week highs and five new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 160 new highs and 39 new lows.

Trouble in Greece

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras failed to get enough support for his presidential nominee and will call a national election for Jan. 25. Stocks in Athens plunged as much as 11.3 percent before closing down 3.9 percent, while yields on 10-year Greek bonds touched their highest since September 2013. Greece's Syriza party, which could come out ahead in the election, wants to wipe out a big part of the country's debt and cancel the terms of a bailout from the European Union and International Monetary Fund that Athens needs in order to pay its bills.

"Greece is always worth paying attention to, but it's a hiccup," said Mark Martiak, senior wealth strategist at Premier Wealth/First Allied Securities in New York. "I don't see it as anything that makes a difference in the overall market."

Hurt in part by the sharp decline in crude prices in the past six months, Russia's economy shrank sharply in November. The ruble resumed its slide on Monday, down 8.4 percent to 58.45 per dollar. Copper fell to its lowest level in four and a half years on concerns about a strong dollar and a slowdown in top consumer China.

 

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