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New Year's Eve Sobers Up Stocks

Wall Street ended the year on a negative note Monday, with technology shares hit by profit-takers and falling oil prices sending energy stocks lower.

Major indexes closed lower despite news that home sales unexpectedly inched up in November, news tempered by a report showing that mortgage defaults rose to their highest level on record in the same month.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 101.05 points, or 0.76 percent, to end at 13,264.82. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was down 10.13 points, or 0.69 percent, to finish at 1,468.36. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 22.18 points, or 0.83 percent, to close at 2,652.28.

Volume was low as investors played a wait-and-see game regarding the various factors that have moved the market during the year.

"People are getting in and out of positions for tax losses and dressing their portfolios for the year end," said Dave Vroubel, of Bluefin Specialists.

One housing report provided some encouragement for the battered sector, as the National Association of Realtors said housing sales in November registered an unexpected gain. But another report showed mortgage defaults at their highest level ever for a single month.

Inventory also dropped, while the NAR urged the Federal Reserve to lower interest rates to help spur home sales.

The mixed news for the day depressed markets.

"It’s the type of market that’s very, thin but it gives traders opportunity," said Jack Bouroudjian, a trader with Brewer Investment Group.

The stock market will be closed on Tuesday for the New Year's holiday.

Among the biggest drags on the Dow were Hewlett Packard and International Business Machines as well as AT&T.

On the tech side, Microsoft and Research in Motion led the way for a slide as investors cashed in on a strong year for the sector.

Falling oil prices affected ExxonMobil and Chevron hardest among power companies, though shares were down across the board.

The most significant deal news of the day was that billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian's Tracindawill pay $684 millionto acquire a 35 percent stake in Delta Petroleum .

Tracinda will buy 36 million Delta shares for $19 per share, a premium of about 23 percent to the stock's Friday closing price, and have the right to nominate up to one-third of the members of Delta's board of directors, Tracinda officials said. Delta was one of the market's biggest gainers in morning trading.

Another company showing a marked upswing was Temple-Inland, the beleaguered financial which benefited from its announcement that it completed the tax-free spin-off of its Guaranty Financial Group and Forestar Real Estate Group to its shareholders.

Oil fell below $95 a barrel on continuing fears over weakness in the economy, and gold neared record high prices following Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto’s killing.

"There's a little nervousness going into New Year's Eve, especially with the global situation and Pakistani unrest. We're looking at flight-to-safety," Joe Saluzzi, co-manager of trading at Themis Trading in Chatham, N.J., told Reuters.

Treasurys rose as continued fears over the fallout from the global credit crisis once again had investors selling higher-risk equities to buy into safer-haven debt.

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