Stocks came back from session lows as financials gained, and the dollar slipped, although the market remained lower amid continuing fears about Europe's ability to harness a credit crisis despite a weekend bailout agreement for Ireland.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell more than 25 points, rising above 11,000 after trading below the psychologically important benchmark for much of the session. The Dow finished lower last week.
Hewlett-Packard, Home Depot , and Verizon were the top laggards on the Dow, while Bank of America and American Express rose.
The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq also declined, but were off the lows of the session. The CBOE Volatility Index, widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, fell below 22.
Telecom, consumer discretionary and technology sectors led the S&P 500 lower, while financials and materials sectors rose.
The dollar rose against a basket of currencies, although it gave up gains in afternoon trading. Oil prices rose above $85 a barrelwhile gold climbed to $1,366 an ounce.
The market turned around mid-afternoon, although there was no clear catalyst for the move. One factor may have been technical: As the S&P 500 fell to 1,177, the bottom-range of its 50-day moving average, buyers came in and it began moving higher, said Kevin Kruszenski, head of listed trading at KeyBanc Capital Markets. The index was trading at 1,188 recently.
Kruszenski said stocks are likely to remain range-bound, between 1,175 and 1,200 for the S&P 500, "until we either get news or something that will cause us to break out."
He noted, too, that buyers tend to come in when the market slumps in hopes of realizing better performance in their portfolios before the year is out. Moreoever, though, no significant economic news is due until Wednesday, when the ADP Employment Report and ISM manufacturing index are released, and trading volume remains light, making the market "easy to push around," he said.
Over the weekend, European Union finance ministers crafted a $112.2 billion aid package package for Ireland and a plan to stem fears of a euro zone debt crisis. But investors continued to worry that debt troubles in Portugal and Spain could lead to similar bailouts in the future.
Those worries spilled over into the U.S. markets, countering a strong weekend of retail sales as the critical holiday shopping season got underway.
"Borrowing costs have risen again for European countries and that’s a pressing issue," said Nino Jimenez, senior vice president at Brinson Patrick, a broker-dealer.
Also, while increased sales and foot traffic were encouraging, shoppers were drawn to stores by heavy discounting, which could hurt earnings, Jimenez said.