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U.S. stocks closed narrowly mixed Tuesday, stabilizing after a sharply lower start to the year, amid pressure from declines in oil prices and Apple stock.
"I think today the market, at least right now, is breathing a little sigh of relief that we didn't see a deterioration in Asia, especially China (overnight)," said Ryan Larson, head of equity trading, U.S., at RBC Global Asset Management (U.S.).
Overnight, the Shanghai composite swung in a 4 percent range before closing down about 0.3 percent. A sharp decline in the index on Monday spilled over globally, sending the major U.S. averages more than 1.5 percent lower.
The U.S. indexes fluctuated between gains and losses throughout Tuesday's session. The Dow transports closed mildly higher after earlier falling to hit a fresh 52-week low.
"The increased volatility can be attributed to the unknown to the investors at this point," said John Caruso, senior market strategist at RJO Futures, noting concerns about global economic growth.
"It was encouraging to see us fight back (and close well off session lows Monday)," he said. But "I can't be a buyer of this market at the moment. There are too many uncertainties."
The Dow Jones industrial average closed about 10 points higher. Earlier, the index fell more than 100 points in midday trade as Apple fell more than 2.5 percent following a report from the Nikkei Asian Review that said the iPhone maker is expected to cut output of the latest iPhones. (Tweet This)
Energy closed half a percent higher after earlier leading decliners in the S&P 500, which closed higher and held above the psychologically key 2,000 level.
U.S. crude oil futures gave up initial attempts at gains to hit their lowest level in 2 weeks. WTI settled down 79 cents, or 2.15 percent, at $35.97 a barrel. Brent fell 80 cents, or 2.1 percent, to $36.42 a barrel, according to Dow Jones.
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"We're two days into the new year. I'm not sure any trend has been established," said Doug Sandler, chief U.S.equity officer at RiverFront Investment Group.
"We're crusting on the negative news. I think that's discounted in the market right now. (We're) setting up 2016 to be a better year than 2015," he said, noting last year's mixed performance set a low bar to beat.
For the second-straight year, the S&P 500 failed to gain during the historically positive timeframe known as the Santa Claus rally period, which ended Tuesday. The index fell about 3 percent last year during those seven trading days, and lost more than 2 percent this time.
European stocks ended higher, but off session highs on Tuesday. Earlier, Dow futures recovered a decline of more than 100 points to trade about 20 points lower ahead of the market open, with traders noting support from gains in European stocks.
In Asia, China's blue-chip CSI300 closed nearly 0.3 percent higher. The Hang Seng fell more than half a percent, while the Nikkei 225 was off about 0.4 percent.
The People's Bank of China (PBOC) injected nearly $20 billion into money markets, its largest cash injection since September, Reuters reported, noting traders suspected the PBOC was using state banks to prop up the yuan at the same time.
Reuters also said the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) announced plans for new rules to further restrict share sales by major stakeholders in listed companies, and said it would further tweak the circuit breaker mechanism amid criticism that it had fueled Monday's sell-off.
The Chinese yuan strengthened slightly after hitting multi-year lows Monday.
The U.S. dollar traded more than half a percent higher against major world currencies to hit its highest in a month. The euro was weaker near $1.07, its lowest in a month. The yen traded at 118.95 yen against the greenback, hovering around Oct. 15 lows.
Auto sales posted a record year in 2015 with 17.47 million total light vehicle sales, Autodata said.
The key economic report for the week, after Monday's sub-50 manufacturing ISM print, is the jobs report expected Friday. Fed meeting minutes are also due Wednesday afternoon.
"Yesterday the S&P managed to close above 2,000. (It) was a good sign we're probably getting to the end of this decline," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at First Standard Financial.
Tuesday should be a "mixed to higher session based on strong car sales," he said. "And oil prices seem to be rebounding this morning. (Monday) may have been a quirk, not an indication of what may or may not happen later this year."
Global benchmark indexes fell sharply Monday, weighed by renewed concerns about global economic growth from the weak U.S. ISM report and China manufacturing data. The Shanghai composite plunged nearly 7 percent before triggering a circuit breaker and halting trade for the day.
The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 1.58 percent Monday for its worst percentage performance on the first trading day of a year since 2008. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq composite closed down 1.53 and 2.08 percent, respectively, for their worst start to a year since 2001.
"Yesterday's decline marked a loss of short-term momentum that is a setback for the market, although support levels remain intact for the major indices," BTIG Chief Technical Strategist, Katie Stockton, said in a note. "The SPX has initial support near 1,995 (the equivalent of 1978 for the S&P futures), with secondary and more important support near 1,965. Initial resistance remains just above 2,100, defining the upper boundary of a two-month trading range."
Shares of Smith & Wesson hit a record intraday high and closed up nearly 11.1 percent at a fresh high, following the release of a more bullish financial outlook and amid President Barack Obama's announcement of gun control measures. Sturm Ruger also hit a record intraday high and held more than 6.5 percent higher.
The closed up 4.05 points, or 0.20 percent, at 2,016.71, with telecommunications leading seven sectors higher and information technology the greatest decliner.
The Nasdaq composite closed down 11.66 points, or 0.24 percent, at 4,891.43.
The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, traded near 19.
About three stocks advanced for every two decliners on the New York Stock Exchange, with an exchange volume of 863 million and a composite volume of 3.7 billion in the close.
Gold futures for February delivery settled up $3.20 at $1,078.40 an ounce.
—Reuters contributed to this report.
On tap this week:
Earnings: Monsanto, RPM International
7 a.m.: Mortgage applications
8:15 a.m.: ADP employment report
8:30 a.m.: International trade
9:45 a.m.: PMI services index
10 a.m.: Factory orders and ISM non-manufacturing index
10:30 a.m.: Oil inventories
2 p.m.: FOMC minutes
Earnings: Walgreens Boots Alliance, Constellation Brands, Finish Line, KB Home, Bed Bath & Beyond, PriceSmart, Ruby Tuesday, Synnex, The Container Store, WD-40
7:30 a.m.: Challenger job-cut report
8:45 a.m.: Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker speaks on the economic outlook for January 2016 at the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce in Raleigh, North Carolina.
8:30 a.m.: Jobless claims
10:30 a.m.: Natural gas inventories
2:15 p.m.: Chicago Fed President Charles Evans speaks on economic conditions and monetary policy at the Wisconsin Economic Forecast Luncheon in Madison, Wisconsin.
4:30 p.m.: Fed balance sheet/money supply
Earnings: Acuity Brands
8:30 a.m.: Non-farm payroll, unemployment rate and average hourly wages
10 a.m.: Wholesale trade
11:30 a.m.: San Francisco Fed President John Williams speaks
1 p.m.: Rig count
1 p.m.: Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker speaks
3 p.m.: Consumer credit and Treasury STRIPS
*Planner subject to change.
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