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U.S. stocks closed lower Wednesday in low volume trade as a decline in oil prices weighed. (Tweet This)
The Dow Jones industrial average ended down more than 110 points as selling accelerated into the close. The S&P 500 closed about 0.7 percent lower, clinging to a year-to-date gain of about 0.2 percent.
"The real story of the day is oil's down 3 percent and that's been weighing all day. Not much to be read into this light volume (trading session)," said Peter Coleman, head trader at Convergex.
Trade volume across exchanges was one of the lowest of the year at about 4.6 billion, far lower than the last two days when about 5 billion shares traded.
Energy declined nearly 1.5 percent and materials closed down about 1 percent to lead all S&P 500 sectors lower.
U.S. crude oil futures settled down $1.27, or 3.35 percent, at $36.60 a barrel.
"All of a sudden the whole world's focused on oil again," said JJ Kinahan, chief strategist at TD Ameritrade.
"It's actually a simple trade from that point of view. We're following that because there's nothing much (else)," he said.
U.S. crude briefly hit a 1-week low in morning trade after weekly crude oil inventories unexpectedly showed a build, up 2.6 million barrels.
Oil gained Tuesday but turned lower in late trade after the American Petroleum Institute showed an inventory build of 2.9 million barrels, compared to analysts' expectations for a decline.
The Dow transports closed down more than 1 percent, giving up an intraday attempt to halve losses.
"I think the most important factor here is we're at year-end. There isn't much volume so it's very easy to move markets either way," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at First Standard Financial.
U.S. markets wrap up the last week of trade for the year on Thursday, and are closed Friday for New Year's Day.
As of Wednesday's close, the S&P 500 was up 0.22 percent year-to-date, while the Dow Jones industrial average was down 1.23 percent for the year so far. The Nasdaq composite was up 6.96 percent for 2015.
After Wednesday's late-afternoon decline, the major U.S. averages are on pace for slight weekly gains of less than half a percent.
The U.S. dollar held mildly higher against major world currencies, with the euro near $1.093 and the yen at 120.50 yen against the greenback.
In a light day of economic reports, pending home sales fell 0.9 percent in November from an upwardly revised October reading, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Treasury yields held below highs reached Tuesday, when the topped 1.1 percent for the first time since April 2010.
The 2-year yield was around 1.07 percent and the 10-year yield near 2.30 percent in the close.
The Treasury auctioned $29 billion in 7-year notes of 2.161 percent. The bid-to-cover ratio, an indicator of demand, was 2.34, below the average 2.46, according to StreetAccount.
European equities ended lower, with the German DAX underperforming with a decline of more than 1 percent.
Asian stocks closed mixed. The Nikkei 225 and Shanghai composite ended slightly higher, while the Hang Seng closed lower.
U.S. stocks closed up more than 1 percent Tuesday as the tech sector led broad gains amid some stabilization in oil and commodity prices.
The closed down 15 points, or 0.72 percent, to 2,063.36, with energy leading all 10 sectors lower.
The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, held near 17.
About two stocks declined for every advancer on the New York Stock Exchange, with an exchange volume of 562 million and a composite volume of 2.3 billion.
Gold futures for February delivery settled down $8.20 at $1,059.80 an ounce.
On tap this week:
8:30 a.m. Initial claims
9:45 a.m. Chicago PMI
10:30 a.m.: Natural gas inventories
4:30 p.m.: Fed balance sheet
New Year's Day holiday
*Planner subject to change.
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