Stocks ended narrowly mixed in a choppy session Monday, after another downgrade of Greece's credit rating offset gains from a flurry of M&A activity and as investors continued to worry over a slowing global recovery ahead of a handful of key economic news throughout the week.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average flirted with the psychologically-important 12,000 mark throughout the day, but failed to close above the mark, squeezing out a gain of 1.06 points or 0.01 percent to finish at 11,952.97.
Defensive stocks led the blue-chip gainers with Pfizer and BofA , while Alcoa and Hewlett-Packard slipped.
The S&P 500 gained 0.85 points, or 0.07 percent, to close at 1,271.83, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq slipped 4.04 points, or 0.15 percent to end at 2,639.69.
The CBOE Volatility Index, widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, gained slightly to trade above 19.
Among key S&P sectors, banks and telecoms finishedhigher, while energy tumbled.
The economic growth could remain soft for some time, according to Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker.
"One striking observation that may be relevant to the possibility that growth underperforms for a sustained period is the apparent reluctance of many employers to add workers in the face of rising demand," Lacker said at a business conference.
Widely-followed economist Nouriel Roubini said there is a chance that the Federal Reserve may unleash a new round of money printing by the end of the year.
The head of Roubini Global Economics told CNBC the probability of QE3 will become “significantly higher” if U.S. economic weakness persists and the stock markets correct 10 percent or more.
Meanwhile, Standard & Poor's cut Greece's credit ratings by three notches, saying the nation is increasingly likely to restructure its debt in a way the ratings agency would consider a default. Greece is now the country with the lowest credit rating in the world.
Greece responded by saying the move overlooked intense deliberations at the EU and IMF to find a solution to the ongoing debt crisis.
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Banks rebounded, led by Citigroup, Wells Fargo and Morgan Stanley , after being one of the worst performing sectors in the previous week.
HSBC said it will run down its credit card business in the U.S. if it cannot find a buyer as the bank tries to cut costs and reduce retail banking.
Some of the major U.S. banks are getting ready to cut their exposure to U.S. Treasurys in August, when a deadline for an agreement on raising the debt ceiling expires, the FT reported.
Meanwhile, oil prices were mixedwith U.S. light sweet crude fell $1.99, or 2 percent, to settle at $97.30 a barrel, while London Brent crude gained 32 cents, or 0.27 percent to settle at $119.10 .
Most energy stocks declined—Weatherford International and NaborsIndustries both slipped more than 4 percent. Major oil giants including ExxonMobil and Chevron also ended lower.
Stocks jumped at the open helped by a handful of M&A news: Allied World Assurance said it would buy Transatlantic Holdings for $3.2 billion in stock, and both companies said the transaction is structured as a merger of equals.
And Timberland skyrocketed more than 40 percent after VF said it would acquire the shoemaker for $2 billionto boost its outdoor and action sports business.