The Dow snapped a six-day winning streak Tuesday — by just over a point — as energy and financials dragged on the market in light trading.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up for much of the day but just couldn't do it, ending down 1.7 points. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq also finished slightly lower.
Energy and financial stocks were the biggest drags. Consumer discretionary and industrials were the best performers.
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 roseagainst both the euro and yen. Oil steadiednear $79 a barrel, while gold droppedbelow $1,100 an ounce.
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 CareerBuilder.com showed employers expect to hire more new workers in 2010 than they did this year — Twenty percent, compared to 14 percent who said they planned to hire for this year.
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.
Bank of America and Chevron finished at the bottom of the Dow pack.
Disney and 3M were the Dow's biggest gainers.
MasterCard , Loews hotel chain and Oracle were the latest in a steady parade of 52-week highs.
The Nasdaq struggled as Apple dropped 1.2 percent after hitting year highs in recent sessions. The stock took a hit as Nokia filed a complaint with the International Trade Commission against Apple, accusing the iPhone giant of violating 10 of its patents.
Amazon finished slightly higher, helped by brisk holiday sales and an increased price target by Kauffman Bros. to $155 from $120.
Banks were one of the weakest links 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.