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Stocks Return to Range-Bound Ways

Updated from 4:05 p.m. EDT

Stocks closed essentially where they began Wednesday after a volatile and indecisive session, as investors took little encouragement from a round of strong economic news amid reports of instability in Iraq.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 0.64 points, or 0.01%, to 10,379.79; the S&P 500 added 1.58 points, or 0.14%, to 1133.59; and the Nasdaq ended up 2.64 points, or 0.13%, to 1998.24.

The 10-year Treasury note, which rallied Tuesday, was recently down 12/32 to yield 4.72%, following somewhat bullish housing industry data. Elsewhere, the dollar was higher against the yen and euro.

In a light session, fewer than 1.2 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, while slightly more than 1.3 billion shares changed hands on the Nasdaq. Advancers held close to a 5-to-4 edge over decliners on both exchanges.

"The only good thing about today's market is that there hasn't been any enthusiasm generated on the downside," said Ken Tower, chief market strategist at CyberTrader. "With all this good economic news, you'd think we'd be able to get some sort of a bounce here.

"Obviously, traders and investors don't care about the economy right now, at least good economic news," he added. "It seems like everyone's running scared on inflation still, so anything that is good economic news feeds those fears."

In Iraq, sabotage attacks on two oil pipelines shut down the country's oil exports. The standstill threatens to remove 1.5 million barrels of oil a day from global markets, for at least the short term. The benchmark U.S. crude rose 23 cents, or 0.6%, to close at $37.65 a barrel, its second consecutive close below the $38 level. Gasoline prices lost about a half-cent to close at $1.146 a gallon.

Larry Wachtel, senior market analyst at Wachovia Securities, said that Wall Street is wary of the precarious position of the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq leading up to the June 30 deadline for the handover of sovereignty to the war-torn nation.

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