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U.S. stocks ended near unchanged on Wednesday, with the Dow furthering its record climb, a day after its first trip above 18,000.
There are "not many people around and no impetus for a sell off," said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott.
And, "claims dropped down to a level below 300,000 that is indicative of firming labor conditions," added Luschini of data released Wednesday that showed fewer Americans than forecast filed for unemployment benefits last week.
The Labor Department reported jobless claims fell by 9,000 to 280,000 last week, with the four-week moving average dropping to 290,250 last week from 298,750.
Separately, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported more Americans applied for mortgages last week, with refinance activity also rising.
Achillion Pharmaceuticals rose after Tuesday's 24 percent drop as biotechnology shares were hit by worries insurers and drug-benefit managers might try to restrict drug costs; Cal-Maine Foods fell after the egg producer reported quarterly earnings short of estimates.
The Dow and S&P 500 rose to intraday records, before losing losing steam in the final moments of trading.
Erasing a 5-point gain, the shed a fraction to finish at 2,081.88, with energy leading sector losses that included seven of its 10 major industry groups.
Rebounding from Tuesday's decline, the Nasdaq gained 8.05 points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,773.47.
Volume was light in Wednesday's shortened session before Thursday's Christmas Day holiday.
Decliners pulled just ahead of advancers on the New York Stock Exchange, where 349 million shares traded. Composite volume surpassed 1.4 billion.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury note used to determine mortgage rates and other consumer loans turned lower, off 1 basis point to 2.2554 percent.
The U.S. dollar declined against the currencies of major U.S. trading partners and dollar denominated commodities including oil and gold fell.
"One day its the Arabs are saying they expect demand to increase a little, and oil rallies, then the next day there's a report that there's likely to be more supply than demand, and the price falls. It's a commodity, and there are not going to be significant production cuts unless somebody blinks," said Luschini.
"While oil prices may get a bounce, they are likely to stay much lower than six months ago, which has contributed to better confidence among consumers, and bodes well for a better jobs market," said Luschini of the trend of lower gasoline prices and its impact on the U.S. economy.
On Tuesday, the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average set records in a fifth day of gains as investors cheered data showing the U.S. economy expanded in the third quarter by the most in 11 years.
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