Stocks Go Flat as Techs Slip, Autos Rise

Stocks were flat to lower on a day when the few traders still hanging around Wall Street were unwilling to commit either way.

The major indexes traded in a tight range during a day of anemic trading. Wall Street was taking advantage of the Thursday Christmas holiday to make a four-day weekend of it and leaving the direction of the market to next week and probably next year.

Tech stocks were weakest, with the Nasdaq lingering just below the breakeven level for most of the day, while the Dow posted a tiny gain and the Standard & Poor's 500 fought to stay positive.

While there was little news to move the market, investors were focusing on developments regarding GMAC Financial Services, which the government threw a lifeline late Wednesday, granting its request to become a bank holding company to tap federal loans. The move is significant because it will give the company access to funds under the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

On the heels of that approval, GM shares surged while Ford Motor also benefited from positive momentum on the development.

In the energy sector, oil prices rose above $36 a barrel after the UAE cut supplies.

Though there was considerable doubt over whether crude could sustain any type of rally, Friday's gain pushed shares of Dow component ExxonMobil higher.

Pharmaceutical giant Merck was the biggest drag on the Dow, which was split almost dead-even with winners and losers. Alcoa was among the index's biggest winners after GM.

The S&P fell flat as the publicly traded realty companies took a beating, lead by Kimco Realty.

Retailers were among the most active stocks in the session. Total holiday sales excluding auto sales were down 5.5 percent to 8 percent. E-commerce was one of the few bright spots.

Amazon shares surged after the online retailer said its 2008 holiday sales were its best ever.

And Apple shares also were called higher by about 1.6 percent as iPod sales were strong over the holidays as well and Wal-Mart set to begin selling the iPhone 3G starting Sunday.

Also in retail, Jones Apparel stock soared and led the S&P after the company said it reduced its $1.25 billion lines of credit into a single line worth $600 million.

But King Pharmaceutical dropped on news that it will be able to buy Alpharma but must sell some assets related to Alpharma's Kadian painkiller.

Both U.S. stock and bond markets are open for a full day and Treasurys prices were higher early as plunging yields failed to stem the desire for safety.

Major European markets were closed for the Boxing Day holiday. Asian markets were mixed, with Japan closing up 1.6% and bit South Korea ending lower.