Wall St closes mostly flat, but Dow hits record

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - United States (US) stocks closed mostly flat on Monday, with the Dow edging up to another record closing high and the S&P 500 index's advance stalling in response to light trading volume and and weaker-than-forecast housing data.

The benchmark S&P 500 had climbed 3.7 per cent over the previous two weeks, the index's best fortnight since July.

The gains came after mounting signs that the economy was gaining strength, leading the Federal Reserve to announce that it will scale back its stimulus.

The S&P 500 has soared 29.1 per cent this year and is on track for its best year since 1997, powered largely by the central bank's stimulus measures. The Dow has jumped 25.9 per cent and the Nasdaq has surged 37.6 per cent this year.

Volume continued to be light during the holiday season, with about 4 billion shares traded on US exchanges, below the 6 billion average so far this month, according to data from BATS Global Markets. The US stock market will be closed on Wednesday for New Year's Day.

"It's hard to imagine anyone would jeopardise their gains with this little time left on the clock," said Mr Brian Battle, director of trading at Performance Trust Capital Partners in Chicago.

Trading was in an unusually narrow range on Monday, with the S&P 500 moving only 3.7 points between its high and low over the session, marking its tightest trading range since December 2010.

The Dow, meanwhile, moved just 27.5 points, marking its narrowest trading range since February 2007.

The National Association of Realtors said its pending home sales index, based on contracts signed last month, rose 0.2 per cent in November, below expectations of a 1 per cent rise.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 25.88 points, or 0.16 per cent, to end at 16,504.29, a record close. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index dipped just 0.33 of a point, or 0.02 per cent, to finish at 1,841.07. The Nasdaq Composite Index declined 2.40 points, or 0.06 per cent, to close at 4,154.20.

About 47 per cent of stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange closed higher on the day, while 45 per cent of Nasdaq-listed shares ended in positive territory.

"I wish I had extended my vacation, is the only thing going through my head because volume is just anemic," said Mr Sam Ginzburg, head of trading at First New York Securities in New York. He added that the thin holiday volume could inject "a little bit of added volatility in the tape".

Twitter Inc, among the most actively traded stocks on the New York Stock Exchange, continued its dive on Monday, falling 5.1 per cent to close at $60.51. Monday's drop followed a 13 per cent slide on Friday from its all-time closing high of $73.31 on Thursday.

Social networking company Facebook Inc, meanwhile, was the S&P 500's second-worst performer. The stock fell 3.12 per cent to close at $53.71.

Walt Disney Co gained 2.5 per cent to $76.23 and ranked as the best performer in both the Dow and the S&P 500 after Guggenheim raised its rating on the media conglomerate's stock to "buy" from "neutral" and raised its target price to $87.

Cooper Tire & Rubber Co rose 5.4 per cent to $24.20 - recovering from earlier losses - after the company said it was not going ahead with a US$2.5 billion (S$3.17 billion) merger with India's Apollo Tyres Ltd.

Shares of Crocs Inc shot up 21.1 per cent to close at $16.14 following news that private equity firm Blackstone Group LP was investing $200 million in a 13 per cent stake in the shoemaker.

Trina Solar Ltd climbed 6.5 per cent to $14.01 after the company signed an agreement to develop a solar power plant in China.