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Stocks Close Quiet Day Mixed; Banks, VIX Down

Stocks wrapped up a lackluster trading day with the bull-market rally intact, as industrials maintained a positive tone despite weakness in technology and banks.

Of the major averages, the Dow 30 finished modestly positive while the Nasdaq 100 lost and the Standard & Poor's 500 eked out a number that was more or less flat.

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Trading with little conviction and in an extremely tight range, stocks waddled around throughout the day, as investors held on for news later this week out of the Federal Reserve's scheduled policy meeting.

Utilities and consumer staples held out front and energy and financials lagged among the 10 sectors on the S&P 500.

Market mainstays such as Wal-Mart , Coca-Cola and Home Depot led the Dow industrials higher as the bluechip average outpaced the rest of the market.

Disney , despite the weekend disappointment of its much-hyped "John Carter" release, pulled out a gain as well though it was well off its session highs. Disney spent more than $250 million on a film that brought in just $30 million for its debut.

S&P's ratings agency arm, noting the "Carter" disappointment, said it nevertheless is keeping its "strong buy" rating on the company. Analyst Tuna Amobi expects Disney to focus on "branded family films with multi-platform upside for studio, separately on track with 3D re-releases of several timeless animation franchises."

Financials dragged on the bluechips, with American Express , Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase trading in red numbers. The KBW Bank Index fell more than 1 percent.

Banks have helped lead the market higher this year, but face upcoming stress tests and continued uncertainty from their exposure to the European sovereign debt crisis.

"The whole market has gotten ahead of itself, and the financials fall into that realm," said Phil Silverman, managing partner at Kingsview Capital in New York. "I can't see any big surprises out of the stress tests, but I'm not wild about being long financials."

Elsewhere, despite the broader weakness in the energy space, ExxonMobil moved higher. Home builders also scored a positive day, with the SPDR Homebuilders exchange-traded fund finishing in the green.

"We don't want to be shorting oil here," Silverman said. "There's too much going on in the Middle East and it's not worth the risk."

The Dow overall hit near its session highs heading into the final minutes of trading, while the other major indexes edged into the red. Market weakness, though, has served as little more than a buying opportunity so far in 2012.

"We can’t argue with what’s working, and so far, buying pullbacks — as infrequent as they’ve been for almost the past three months — has been the right strategy," said Rick Bensignor, chief market strategist at Merlin Securities in New York.

Trading volume was anemic, with about 650 million shares changing hands on the New York Stock Exchange. Breadth was negative, with losers beating gainers about 1.2 to 1.

Commodities futures were mostly lower, with crude oil dropping below $107 a barrel and gold prices falling below $1,700 an ounce. Natural gas dropped about 3.4 percent. Treasury yields were little changed, with the benchmark 10-year holding right around 2 percent.

In other market action, Tudou Holdings soared on news that the Chinese video companywould be acquired by its chief competitor, Youku.

Clean Diesel Tech also saw its stock jump after it reported earnings that beat expectations.

The earnings calendar otherwise is light, with Urban Outfitters releasing its quarterly numbers after Monday’s closing bell. Investors were anticipating good things, making the stock one of the leading gainers on the Nasdaq 100.

On the downside, Tranzyme Pharma tumbled on news that a trial of its treatment to speed up gastrointestinal recovery following abdominal surgery did not meet its goal.

Even with market direction uncertain, the CBOE Volatility Index , which gauges the cost of downside protection and usually runs inverse to the major indexes, fell more than 4 percent.

The U.S. Treasury Department’s monthly budget for February will be issued at 2 p.m. New York time. Economists polled by Briefing.com forecast a $229 billion deficit, against a January deficit of $222.5 billion.

A Treasury auction of 3-year notes was mediocre but did little to move the market.