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U.S. stocks drifted little changed on Monday, after the market's best week of the year, as investors tracked the cost of crude as a proxy for the health of the global economy and sorted through quarterly earnings.
"We have a tug of war between strong fundamentals in the U.S. versus the global macro," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities.
And, Wall Street currently views $80.50 a barrel for West Texas Intermediate as a pivot point for risk on, risk off. "All of a sudden, WTI at $80.50 is a barometer for the global economy. Above it and the world is not a terrible place, and below the sky is falling," Hogan said.
The largest market driver is "some of the disappointing numbers out of Europe. There is some improvement, but not enough to move the needle," said Bruce McCain, chief investment strategist at Key Private Bank.
The European Central Bank on Sunday said about one in five of the euro-area major lenders failed stress tests at the end of 2013, but most have since fixed their finances.
"Half are in motion to fix their problems, and others are well on their way to righting their ship," said Wunderlich's Hogan.
"The counter balance was the German IPO survey," Hogan added of a report showing German business sentiment declining in October for a sixth consecutive month, increasing worries about Europe's biggest economy.
"If we have one clear economic concern, it's the deteriorating economic situation in Europe," said McCain.
Merck & Co. slipped after the pharmaceutical company posted earnings above estimates but revenue slightly short, while narrowing its 2014 earnings outlook. Apple edged lower amid reports drugstore-chains Rite Aid and CVS Heath had disabled the consumer-technology company's mobile wallet from working in their stores.
In a report late Sunday, Goldman Sachs cut its 2015 outlook for oil prices, saying it expects U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude to drop to $75 a barrel and Brent to $85 a barrel in the first quarter of 2015.
"Although energy prices in the U.S. have yet to get off the mat, the lower prices have morphed from signs of economic slowing here to a boon for consumers with added spending cash for the Christmas holiday," Paul Nolte, portfolio manager at Kingsview Asset Management, noted in emailed comments.
The CBOE Volatility Index, a measure of investor uncertainty, rose 2.2 percent to 16.47.
The declined 0.2 percent, with materials the weakest sector and telecommunications faring best among its 10 major industries.
The Nasdaq added 0.1 percent.
For every three shares rising, roughly four fell on the New York Stock Exchange, where 554 million shares traded as of 3:50 p.m. Eastern. Composite volume hit 3 billion.
The U.S. dollar declined against other global currencies and dollar-denominated commodities including oil and gold fell.
After dipping to a more-than two-year low below $80 a barrel, crude futures for December delivery fell a cent to $81.01 a barrel, and the December gold contract lost $2.50 or 0.2 percent, to $1,229.30 an ounce on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury note used to figure mortgage rates and other consumer loans dropped a basis point to 2.261 percent.
A read of existing-home sales had them holding virtually flat in September. The National Association of Realtors reporting signed contracts to buy existing home rose only 0.3 percent last month from August.
The Federal Open Market Committee is expected to end its purchases of government notes and mortgage bonds at its two-day meeting that concludes Wednesday.
On Friday, U.S. stocks climbed, with Wall Street derailing a four-week slide with its best week this year, as quarterly results from companies including Microsoft and Procter & Gamble inspired investor enthusiasm.
Coming Up This Week:
FOMC meeting starts
Earnings: BP, Facebook, Pfizer, Gilead Sciences, Dupont, Anandarko, Electronic Arts, UBS, Novartis, Sanofi, Honda, Sirius XM Radio, Coach, AutoNation, Cummins, CIT, Corning, Consol Energy, Newfield Exploration, Noble Energy, TD Ameritrade, Starwood, Express Scripts, Panera Bread, Western Digital, Marriott, Vertex Pharma, US Steel, Luxottica, Owens-Illinois, Whirlpool
8:30 a.m.: Durable goods
9:00 a.m.: S&P/Case-Shiller home prices
10:00 a.m.: Consumer confidence
10:00 a.m.: Housing vacancies
1:00 p.m.: $29 billion 2-year note auction
Earnings: Deutsche Bank, Visa, Kraft Foods, Fiat Chrysler, Allstate, Statoil, Total, Range Resources, Murphy Oil, Suncor, Ralph Lauren, Nintendo, Phillips 66, Questar, Akamai, Hyatt, McGraw-Hill Financial, Wellpoint Health, Hershey, Hess, Praxair, Agnico Eagle Mines, RF Micro,Dreamworks Animation, F5 Networks, MetLife, Baidu, Flextronics, Williams Cos, Shutterfly, Southern Co, Automatic Data, Carlyle Group, Boaz Allen
7:00 a.m.: Mortgage applications
10:30 a.m.: EIA oil inventories
1:00 p.m.: $35 billion 5-year auction
2:00 p.m.: FOMC statement
Earnings: Royal Dutch Shell, Samsung Electronics, ConocoPhillips,Kellogg, Mosaic, Microchip Tech, Expedia, Crown Castle, Eastman Chemical, Boston Beer, Newmont Mining, Mohawk, Tesoro, Groupon,LinkedIn, Teva, Altria, Starbucks, Johnson Controls, New York Times, Eni, Fortress Investments, Starz, GNC Holdings, LPL Financial, Old Dominion Freight Line, CME Group, Public Storage, Time Warner Cable
8:30 a.m.: Weekly jobless claims
830 a.m.: Q3 real GDP
9:00 a.m.: Fed Chair Janet Yellen makes welcoming remarkets at Fed conference in Washington, No Q&A
1:00 p.m.: $29 billion 7-year note auction
Earnings: Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Sony, A-B InBev, AbbVie, Clorox, BNP Paribas, Madison Square Garden, Pinnacle West, Newell Rubbermaid, Rockwell Collins, NextEra Energy, Charter Communications, Legg Mason, CBOE Holdings, Weyerhaeuser, Teco Energy, Dominion
8:30 a.m.: Personal income and spending
8:30 a.m.: Employment cost index
9:45 a.m.: Chicago PMI
9:55 a.m.: Consumer sentiment
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