Updated from 4:15 p.m. ESTStocks ended a back-and-forth trading session little changed Tuesday as investors weighed the effects of declining oil prices and prepared for the beginning of earnings season. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 6.89 points, or 0.06%, to 12,416.60, and the S&P 500 eased by 0.73 point, or 0.05%, at 1412.11. The Nasdaq Composite eked out a gain of 5.63 points, or 0.23%, to 2443.83. "The market trend continues to hang in the balance," said Ken Tower, chief market strategist with CyberTrader. "If one takes profits here and the uptrend resumes, one always has the option of opening new positions. Should a downtrend develop, those profits will be lost for, at least, a considerable period of time." Volume was strong again, with 2.96 billion shares changing hands on the New York Stock Exchange. The Nasdaq traded nearly 2.17 billion shares. Losers and winners were essentially even. The story of the new day took place in the oil market, where crude retraced much of a huge loss but still ended down 45 cents at $55.64 a barrel. Earlier, oil plummeted below $54. Analysts expect that crude inventories, which the Energy Department will report on Wednesday, will show the first build in several weeks. Other energy contracts were mixed. Larry Wachtel, senior market analyst with Wachovia Securities, says that a drop is "a two-edged sword. Energy is the leading group for the market, but falling oil prices certainly help consumers."