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Traders still hoping Santa will bring Dow 18,000

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If there is a Santa rally this year, it may not be quite the smooth ride higher many expected for stocks just a few weeks ago, according to some strategists.

The S&P 500 has lost 0.8 percent in two sessions this week, but it recovered from a 25-point rout Tuesday to close nearly flat at 2059. The underlying nervousness, however, may make stocks more volatile into the year end.

"What we've seen happen is the good stocks have continued to go up, and the bad stocks have continued to go down so it's kind of a narrow rally that is difficult to navigate," said Maxim Group technical analyst Paul LaRosa. "We bounced pretty nicely today and had a nice turnaround…You're seeing a little volatility here which is not surprising when you've had a good run."