Stocks Struggle After 6-Day Winning Streak

Stocks struggled to hold gains Tuesday as the recent rally appeared to lose steam on day seven but consumer-discretionary stocks rose.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average held on to a couple-point gain, while the S&P 500 and Nasdaq were lower.

TheCBOE volatility index, widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, remained below 20. The gauge fell below that key mark last week for the first time since August 2008, before the financial crisis.

The dollar slippedagainst the euro and other high-yield currencies but rose against the yen. Gold droppedbelow $1,100 an ounce, while oil fellbelow $79 a barrel.

Some encouraging economic news this morning: The Conference Board's gauge of consumer confidence rose to 52.9 in December from 50.6 in November, in-line with expectations.

The S&P/Case-Shiller report showed home prices were flatin October, after five straight increases, but it was still viewed by the market as an encouraging sign that the housing market is stabilizing.

"The rate was basically in line with the consensus forecast. We continue to see stabilization on a month to month basis in housing prices," Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer of Solaris Asset Management, told Reuters.

And a survey from shows employers expect to hire more new workers in 2010 than they did this year. 20 percent indicate they'll be doing more hiring, compared to 14 percent a year ago.

The Treasury's auction of $42 billion in 5-year notes was met with solid demand. The high yield was 2.665 percent and the bid-to-cover ratio was 2.59. This came after tepid demand for Monday's two-year auction.

At the halfway mark, Disney and 3M were at the top of the Dow's leader board as investors continued to raise their bets on the consumer-discretionary sector.

Bank of America and Caterpillar were at the bottom of the pack.

MasterCard , Loews hotel chain and Oracle were the latest in a steady parade of 52-week highs.

The Nasdaq struggled as Apple pulled back after hitting year highs in recent sessions.

But Amazon advanced, helped by brisk holiday sales and an increased price target by Kauffman Bros. to $155 from $120.

Banks were relatively flat following news that the Federal Reserve will introduce a term deposit facility which will allow banks to get interest on deposits with maturities of under one year with the central bank, as part of its efforts to soak up excess liquidity from the market, to fight inflation when the recovery will be well under way.

The coming IPO of the world's largest aluminum maker, Rusal, has apparently generated interest from billionaire John Paulson and BlackRock.

If stocks pull off another gain today it would be the seventh straight win. On Monday, stocks logged modest gains after a report showed the holiday-shopping season wasn't as bad as predicted. Though volume was predictably light given the holiday-shortened week. All U.S. financial markets will be closed Friday for the New Year's day holiday.

This streak, for instance, has seen a 2.3 percent gain for the Dow, where

Winterizing Your Portfolio - A CNBC Special Report
Winterizing Your Portfolio - A CNBC Special Report

Gains have been modest, however: The Dow has gained 2.3 percent in the past six sessions; In its prior six-day streak (November 4-11), the blue-chip index gained 5.3 percent. Nonetheless, the Dow and the S&P 500 registered their highest closes Monday since October 1, 2008, while the Nasdaq closed at its best since September 3, 2008.

Still to Come:

WEDNESDAY: Weekly mortgage applications; weekly crude inventories; 7-year auction
THURSDAY: Weekly jobless claims
FRIDAY: New Year's Day — all US financial markets closed

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