Stocks opened the day after Christmas in their own universe, rising solidly despite heightened concerns over tensions between the U.S. and Iraq, as well as North Korea's (and Iran's) nuclear ambitions, and the strike in Venezuela. But by the end of a sparsely traded session, major averages succumbed to those same fundamental factors, which kept upward pressure on gold and oil, and downward pressure on the dollar. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.2% to 8432.61 after trading as high as 8565, while the S&P 500 shed 0.3% to 889.66 vs. its intraday best of 903.89. The Nasdaq Composite lost 0.3% to 1367.90 vs. its early high of 1392.60. With many traders taking extended holidays, just under 700 million shares were exchanged on the Big Board, the slowest full-session day of the year, while 669 million traded over the counter. The price of the benchmark 10-year note rose 8/32 to 100 26/32, its yield falling to 3.90%. Stocks rallied early after the government reported a sharper-than-expected drop in weekly jobless claims. The gains came despite lowered December sales guidance from Wal-Mart ( WMT), the latest confirmation of a distressing holiday shopping season for retailers. Wal-Mart, which has been battered in recent weeks, rose fractionally, but online retailer Amazon.com ( AMZN) shed 7.3%. Initially, major averages also overcame weakness in Pfizer ( PFE) and Pharmacia ( PHA), which declined amid reports the arthritis drug Celebrex, which they comarket, may not be as effective as hoped in stopping bleeding in patients with ulcers. The Amex Drug Index fell nearly 2%. The inability of averages to sustain early gains raised further doubts about prospects for the much-discussed and still-elusive year-end rally. Still, given the holiday atmosphere and the market's relatively minor moves, market participants were loath to read too much into the session's significance.