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Health care lifts Nasdaq to new record closing high; Street awaits Trump

U.S. equities closed mixed after a choppy session on Tuesday, as the Nasdaq composite notched a fresh record high, while investors prepared for a key news conference from the U.S. president-elect.

"For the past few weeks, you're seeing a tug-of-war between bulls and bears," said Adam Sarhan, CEO at 50 Park Investments. "The market continues to wait for a catalyst."

The Nasdaq hit a new intraday record and posted a new closing high, as health care stocks rose. The S&P 500 closed unchanged for the first time in nine years, with consumer discretionary leading advancers and real estate lagging. The Dow Jones industrial average fell about 30 points, after briefly flirting with the psychologically important 20,000 mark.

"We've had a little bit of back-and-forth recently ... which coincided with improving economic data," said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott, who noted the market was trying to get back some of Monday's losses. Equities ended Monday's session mixed, with the Dow and S&P closing lower, while the Nasdaq rose.

The NFIB's small business survey results for December showed sentiment soaring to a 12-year high. Wholesale inventories, meanwhile, rose 1 percent, slightly above estimates. The job openings and labor turnover survey (JOLTS) for November showed job openings remained little changed at 5.5 million. That said, the number of people quitting their jobs hit a record high, which shows confidence in the economy.

"Clearly, the breadth [in the market] has declined," said Maris Ogg, president at Tower Bridge Advisors. "There are some near-term concerns. The near-term concern I have is the rising dollar."

The dollar rose slightly against a basket of currencies, with the euro trading at $1.056 and the yen around 111.7. Since Donald Trump was elected, the greenback has appreciated more than 3 percent.

Trump is scheduled to hold a news conference Wednesday at 11 a.m. ET. "Investors are going to want to hear what he has to say, and whether he's changing his tone," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at First Standard Financial.

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Mario Tama | Getty Images

Since his electoral victory, Trump has taken to Twitter to criticize companies that planned to send jobs overseas rather than create them in the United States. He has also threatened to levy a high border tax against those firms.

On Monday, Trump praised Fiat Chrysler after the automaker announced plans to invest in Ohio and Michigan. Trump also thanked Ford Motor via Twitter for saying last week it would expand in Michigan rather than build a plant in Mexico.

The U.S. stock market has soared since Nov. 8 amid optimism that the incoming administration will deregulate certain sectors, lower corporate taxes and inject fiscal stimulus into the U.S. economy.

"I maintain that the most important headline for the market's direction in 2017 pertains to the new corporate tax rate. Forward multiples that reside at their cyclical peak demand a significant cut," Jeremy Klein, chief market strategist at FBN Securities, said in a note.

"Investors would likely frown upon a number that settles in the mid-20's or higher. They will also dump shares if the President succeeds in implementing a border adjustment penalty on imported goods," Klein said.

Also looming ahead is the start of the corporate earnings season, which will be closely watched given the market's recent rally. "We're going to need to get good earnings growth to justify these high levels," said First Standard's Cardillo.

S&P 500 earnings per share are expected to record a 4.4 percent year-over-year increase, according to Lindsey Bell, investment strategist at CFRA.

Nick Raich, CEO at The Earnings Scout, said in a note that, "while better 4Q 2016 growth is highly likely to persist into 1Q 2017, this better growth has been getting priced into stocks for almost a year now. The more important thing this earnings season, as it always is, will be the direction of EPS expectations and not the absolute levels of past growth."

In other U.S. corporate news, Yahoo announced it will change its name to "Altaba" and scale down its board of directors once the sale of its internet assets to Verizon is complete. Meanwhile, shares of Valeant Pharmaceuticals spiked after announcing the sale skincare brands to L'Oreal.

U.S. Treasurys were mixed, with the two-year note yield trading flat at 1.185 percent and the benchmark 10-year note yield rising to 2.383 percent.

Symbol
Name
Price
 
Change
%Change
DJIA
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S&P 500
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NASDAQ
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The Dow Jones industrial average fell 31.85 points, or 0.03 percent, to 19,855.53, with Merck leading decliners and Caterpillar the top advancer.

The S&P 500 closed flat at 2,268.90, with consumer discretionary leading six sectors higher and real estate the biggest decliner.

The Nasdaq rose 20 points, or 0.36 percent, to end at 5,551.82.

About nine stocks advanced for every five decliners at the New York Stock Exchange,with an exchange volume of 918.22 million and a composite volume of 3.584 billion at the close.

The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, traded near 11.47.

—CNBC's Javier David contributed to this report.

On tap this week:

Wednesday

Earnings: KB Home, MSC Industrial

1 p.m. $20 billion 10-year note auction

Thursday

Earnings: Taiwan Semiconductor, Infosys, Shaw Communications, Delta Airlines

8:30 a.m. Philadelphia Fed President Patrick Harker

8:45 a.m. Chicago Fed President Charles Evans and Atlanta Fed's Lockhart on a panel

8:30 a.m. Initial claims

8:30 a.m. Import prices

12:30 p.m. Atlanta Fed's Lockhart

1:00 p.m. $12 billion 30-year bond auction

1:15 p.m. St. Louis Fed President James Bullard

1:45 p.m. Dallas Fed President Rob Kaplan

2:00 p.m. Federal budget

7:00 p.m. Fed Chair Janet Yellen holds town hall with educators

Friday

Earnings: JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, PNC Financial,Wells Fargo, First Republic Bank, BlackRock

8:30 a.m. Retail sales

8:30 a.m. PPI

9:30 a.m. Philadelphia Fed's Harker

10:00 a.m. Consumer sentiment

10:00 a.m. Business inventories