U.S. stocks closed lower on Monday, the last day of trade for August, as investors digested a volatile month amid continued uncertainty about China and the Fed. (Tweet This)
"I think more than anything else at this point investors want an indication that the selloff is over or just a prelude that the worst is rest to come," said Bruce McCain, chief investment strategist at Key Private Bank.
"I think it's about the overhang in the markets than the current news," he said.
Both the Dow and S&P had five days of gains or losses of more than 2 percent in August, making it the most volatile month in nearly four years.
The major averages ended Friday with gains for the week with historic intra-week reversals. However, they posted August losses of more than 6 percent each, their worst month in at least three years.
On Monday, the Dow Jones industrial average closed about 115 points lower after earlier falling as much as 198.96 points. The index ended less than 0.10 percent away from correction (trading at 16,516.22 or below) after dipping in and out on an intraday basis.
The S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite remained out of correction.
The major averages briefly more than halved losses in midday trade as oil prices surged for a third day in a row.
"Oil has helped us come off the lows," said JJ Kinahan, chief strategist at TD Ameritrade. He also noted some support for investor sentiment from greater consensus in Fed policymaker comments and solid U.S. GDP figures last week.
The energy sector turned positive in midday trade, briefly rising more than 1 percent, to lead S&P 500 gains after earlier losing more than 2 percent.
Oil reversed an early decline to settle up 8.8 percent at $49.20 a barrel, more than wiping out August losses of nearly 20 percent and posting its best three-day rally since the three days ending Aug. 6, 1990.The gains came on news the about low oil prices in its publication issued Monday.
Brent crude also jumped about 6.5 percent to briefly trade above $53.70 a barrel.
While China is a factor for stocks, "I think in the meantime it's more Fed-related, particularly on anticipation of this Friday's jobs report," said Mark Luschini, chief investment officer at Janney Montgomery Scott.
Federal Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer told CNBC on Friday from the Jackson Hole symposium that it was too early to determine whether last week's market turmoil would impact the likelihood of a rate hike next month.
He added in a Saturday speech that inflation pressure in the U.S. economy is likely to rebound and allow for a gradual increase in rates. He and the Bank of England's Governor Mark Carney indicated with their comments that the two central banks could be set to look past recent financial market turmoil set off by fears of slowing China growth.
"I think the both (the Fed and China) are an excuse. I think the market has made a bottom and is going to stay this way in a bottoming-out process, which means more volatility," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital. He attributed much of the opening losses to profit taking.
Dow futures briefly fell by more than 200 points, amid a report in The Financial Times over the weekend that Beijing would abandon its large-scale share purchases. The news sparked declines in China's A-listed shares, although the Shanghai Composite pared losses to close 0.8 percent down.
European stocks closed mildly lower. The London exchange was closed for a holiday.
"I think the market's been pretty focused on China and investors have a pretty good idea of where China stands. So I think the worst is out there," said Maris Ogg, president of Tower Bridge Advisors.
"We think we know the Fed's going to increase rates. I think what's going on in China is much more opaque," she said.
No major earnings were due on Wall Street Monday. The Chicago purchasing managers' index (PMI) for August came in at 54.4, slightly below expectations and last month's read, but still indicating expansion.
The U.S. dollar traded a touch lower against major world currencies, with the euro above $1.12 and the yen near 121 yen against the greenback.
Treasury yields came off session lows, with the 10-year Treasury yield near 2.21 percent and the higher near 0.73 percent.