Stocks Close Near Flat Line

The session was back and forth following retail sales and the Chicago PMI.
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Updated from 3:24 p.m. EST

Stocks took a twisting route to end little changed Thursday as traders contended with a two-session rally, a weak report on Midwestern manufacturing and mixed retail sales results.

The

Dow Jones Industrial Average

fell 4.80 points, or 0.04%, to 12,221.93 after swinging in a range of more than 100 points. The

S&P 500

tacked on 1.15 points, or 0.08%, at 1400.63, and the

Nasdaq Composite

slipped less than a point to finish at 2431.77.

Early on, sellers were spurred to action after the Chicago purchasing managers' index for November was much softer than expected, falling to 49.9 from 53.5 in October. An uptick to 54.4 had been forecast. A number below 50 signals contraction, while a reading above points to expansion.

Though it's a regional survey, the Chicago PMI is used by traders to help them estimate the strength of the national factory sector.

The market rebounded after midday, but the highs wouldn't hold into the close. Wall Street had risen for the previous two sessions after a steep selloff Monday.

As the new day began, investors were faced with monthly chain-store sales from the nation's retailers. Among them,

Limited's

(LTD)

November same-store sales rose 12%,

Pacific Sunwear's

(PSUN)

monthly comps declined 3.8%, and

Bebe Stores

(BEBE)

had a same-store sales increase of 5.8%.

Guess?

(GES) - Get Report

said comparable sales were up 12.1% in November, and

Wet Seal

(WTSLA)

had an increase of 5.5%.

Pier 1

(PIR) - Get Report

had another drop, with same-store sales falling more than 15%.

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The retail sales reports came less than a week after the holiday shopping season kicked off the day after Thanksgiving. Sales were largely positive over the long weekend, but

Wal-Mart

(WMT) - Get Report

, the world's biggest retailer, was a soft spot, saying same-store revenue for November fell 0.1%.

Elsewhere, drug giant

Pfizer

(PFE) - Get Report

, holding a meeting on its research and development plans, lifted its full-year profit forecast, saying it should earn at least $2.05 a share this year. Previously, the company was expecting about $2 a share, and analysts are calling for $2.02.

Returning to the economic front, the Commerce Department said personal spending rose 0.2% in October, twice the rate that was expected. Income climbed 0.4%, just below the 0.5% increase economists had been looking for.

Separately, the Labor Department said first-time filings for jobless claims rose by 34,000 to 357,000 last week.

Following the data, Treasuries were higher, with the 10-year note jumping 15/32 in price and yielding 4.46%. The 30-year bond surged 26/32 and was yielding 4.56%. The dollar was mixed against other major currencies.

As for commodities, energy prices were generally stronger. Oil futures rose 67 cents to $63.13 a barrel, but natural gas was down 2 cents at $8.82 per million British thermal units. Gold rose $11.10 to $652.90 an ounce.