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Stocks end mixed, Dow at record and S&P on track for best year in 16

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U.S. stocks finished little changed on Monday, with the S&P 500 on track for its largest yearly increase in 16 years, after a report on pending home sales came in below expectations.

"It's a very quiet day. The volume is extremely light, as you would expect, but it looks like the S&P is going to hang onto its 29 percent, year to date," said Darrell Cronk, regional chief investment officer for Wells Fargo Private Bank.

Wall Street took in stride a report that found contracts to buy previously owned homes rose less than projected in November.

The housing data was "just a little bit soft, but traders and investors are looking more at the entire year, and housing prices are up 13.5 percent for 2013, which would be the best year for housing prices in six years," said Cronk.

Crocs rallied after the maker of plastic clogs said its chief executive officer would retire at the end of April and that Blackstone Group was investing $200 million in the company to garner a 13 percent stake. Twitter declined, continuing the prior week's drop. Cooper Tire & Rubber slid after the company said it would not go through with a $2.5 billion merger with India's Apollo Tyres.

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Knocking out another record close, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 25.88 points, or 0.2 percent, at 16,504.29, with Walt Disney leading blue-chip gains after Guggenheim Securities upgraded the entertainment company to buy from neutral.

In position for its fourth consecutive monthly gain, the S&P 500 declined a fraction to 1,841.07, with energy the poorest performing and consumer discretionary faring the best among its 10 major sectors.

The Nasdaq fell 2.4 points to 4,154.19.

Trading volume was minuscule, as would be expected during the holidays, with Wall Street closed on Wednesday for New Year's day.

Decliners remained a step ahead of advancers on the New York Stock Exchange, where 462 million shares traded. Composite volume neared 2.3 billion.

The S&P has gained 29 percent this year, and is on track for its best year since 1997, fueled in large part by stimulus from the Federal Reserve.

The National Association of Realtors reported signed contracts to buy existing homes rose slightly in November, halting a five-month negative streak. Economists expected signed contracts to climb 1 percent.

"It's clear that the rise in mortgage rates slowed the pace of improvement in the housing market in addition to double-digit price increases and tough lending standards which have put a particularly on those buying a home with a mortgage," emailed Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at the Lindsey Group.

The dollar held steady against the currencies of major U.S. trading partners, while the yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell 3 basis points to 2.97 percent.

"How the U.S. economy responds to higher rates in 2014 will be the true test of its health and whether it's a perpetual addict to cheap money or not," said Boockvar, who cited Bankrate.com in noting that as of Friday, the average 30-year mortgage rate was 4.56 percent, a three-month high and up from an average of 4.32 percent in November.

The price of U.S. crude lost $1.03 cents to $99.29 a barrel, after breaking above the $100 level on Friday for the first time since October. Gold fell $10.20 to $1,203.80 an ounce, on track for its biggest annual drop in more than 30 years.

On Friday, stocks ended little changed, with the S&P 500 and Dow industrials not far from record highs, as Wall Street considered the impact of increased borrowing costs on the U.S. economy.

—By CNBC's Kate Gibson

Coming Up This Week:

Tuesday - S&P/Case-Shiller for October at 9 a.m. Eastern. Chicago PMI for December at 9:45 a.m. Eastern. Consumer confidence for December at 10 a.m. Eastern.

Wednesday - Markets closed for the New Year's Day holiday.

Thursday - Initial jobless claims for week ending Dec. 28 at 8:30 a.m. Eastern. Manufacturing PMI for December at 8:58 a.m. Eastern. ISM Manufacturing for December at 10 a.m. Eastern. Construction spending for November at 10 a.m. Eastern.

Friday - Light vehicle sales for December. Earnings from Lindsay Corp. expected ahead of the market open.

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